Picks and Pans Review: The Fabulous Baker Boys

updated 10/23/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/23/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jeff Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer, Beau Bridges

It operates at three speeds: slow, slower and have-I-slept-through-the-first-showing? It is written in three modes: dumb, foolish and has-anyone-here-been-within-350-miles-of-real-life? This is a movie that went downhill—at 90 degrees—when the concept and casting were completed.

The Bridges brothers play a two-piano lounge act that does mediocre business in mediocre clubs around Seattle. Beau is hopelessly square: His idea of a big number is "Feelings." Jeff is hopelessly hip: He is also relentlessly sullen, pouty and ill-tempered. Pfeiffer enters the boys' lives when they're auditioning singers to spark up their act. She does her own vocals and is a striking torch singer in a breathy, touching sort of way. Having positioned three talented actors in an intriguing situation, writer-director Steve Kloves lets them sit there, with no explanation of why they are the way they are. Beau, for instance, is supposed to have a suburban life with a wife and children, but they never appear. Pfeiffer confesses that she has been working as a high-class hooker, but there's never a hint of why she hasn't sung before. Jeff is shown to be a frustrated jazzman, but there's no explanation of why he hasn't split from his brother. Kloves's dialogue is vintage bad old B-movies. When Pfeiffer, a big hit obviously headed for stardom, quits the group to sing cat-food jingles (!), Jeff growls, "Forget it, sweetheart. We survived 15 years before you strutted on the scene." Dave Grusin's piano (he dubs in Jeffs solos) and background samplings from Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman make the music enjoyable. But not enough to justify the dull stretches between songs. Things are slow enough to let you think up your own alternatives for the script, and just about everybody will come up with something better than the actual movie, except maybe the guy back there in Row 19 with the quart of Milk Duds. (R)

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