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‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 13, 1989

The music in "The Fabulous Baker Boys" -- and I don't mean the lounge-room pianists' cocktail-hell playlist -- goes to your head. Increasingly.

If writer/director Steve ("Racing With the Moon") Kloves has composed an easy-listening boy-meets-girl and brother-loves-brother plotline for Jeff Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer and Beau Bridges, he has more than augmented it with miniature human rhapsodies.

"You came in late on 'Little Green Apples,' " complains older, balder Beau, shielding a deeper anxiety about his brother's growing attraction to new chanteuse Pfeiffer.

"No, Frank," replies his brother. "You came in early. You've been coming in early for a decade."

They've been playing together for more than a decade actually, tinkling before dwindling crowds at places such as The Hula Girl Hideaway. But when gum-chewing bombshell Pfeiffer, who knows how to sell a song (before this she was "on call for the Triple A Dating Service") makes the duo a trio, business soars.

So do many other things in "Baker Boys": The collective Bridges-Pfeiffer-Bridges performance for one thing, Michael Ballhaus's cinematography for another. The man who, among many films, shot Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "The Marriage of Maria Braun," Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ," James L. Brooks's "Broadcast News" and Mike Nichols's "Working Girl," gives human skin a peachy glow, frames a seduction scene (involving back-caressing and parted lips) that's the next best thing to being there and, in what amounts to the visual zenith of the movie, paints a champagne-drinking balcony scene with appropriately moonlit intoxication.

In retrospect, as the beguiling screen presence in this threeway encounter dissipates (the facile label for this would be "An American 'Jules and Jim!!!' "), some elements could have used richer chords. Has mopey Jeff Bridges chainsmoked and kept his head downcast for 15 years, for instance? And doesn't his neck hurt? And how did a class act like Pfeiffer get to be for hire, anyway? Also, cameo player Jennifer Tilly plays a bimbo would-be entertainer as if she's a guest on the Carol Burnett Show.

But this is hindsight dithering over what is, essentially, a thoroughly enjoyable entertainment that should play just about everybody's strings right. Kloves proves to be quite a plucker.

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