Picks and Pans Review: Diner

updated 05/17/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/17/1982 01:00AM

Peering back at the youth of two decades ago has become something of a cinematic pastime from American Graffiti to Porky's. It has also become achingly repetitive. No wonder MGM was skeptical about releasing Diner, a low-budget, all-non-star look at a handful of buddies who hang out at a Baltimore eatery, circa 1959. Astonishingly, the movie turns out to be the best and boldest of the genre-and a piercingly intelligent comedy. Writer Barry (And Justice for All) Levinson, 40, who debuts as director, shows an eye for detail as astute as his ear for dialogue. Among the guys in Diner, the top compliment is "She's death," the hot debate is whether Sinatra or Johnny Mathis provides the best make-out music, and the ultimate fantasy is sex. The reality is mostly sexual panic. Daniel Stern is married, but can't abide talking to his wife. Steve Guttenberg is scheduled to walk the aisle, but won't unless his fiancée first passes a "monster football quiz." Most moving is the self-destructive Kevin Bacon, who'll "do anything for a smile," even sell his date for $5. At the center is Mickey Rourke, the one lady killer in the bunch, a beautician trying law school at night. All the performances are remarkable. Rourke won't stay unknown for long. But the ultimate triumph is Levin-son's. He captures both the surface and the soul of an era with candor and precision. Other films have promised as much. Diner delivers. (R)

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