THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS

Jeff and Beau Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer. Directed by Steve Kloves. Rated R. 1989. (IVE tape, 116 min., CC, Hi-Fi stereo, $89.95)

Pfeiffer won several critics' prizes and an Oscar nomination as best actress for her electrifying singing debut in "The Fabulous Baker Boys." But the movie itself was less successful both critically and at the box office. The plot was regarded by some as too slight and downbeat, the ending too tentative and unresolved. Those who missed the movie in its foreshortened theatrical run, therefore, have a treat in store with this haunting and stirring entertainment.

Many people have complained about the dark, murky look of the "Batman" video, so be warned that "Baker Boys" is dark and murky too. I happen to like dark and murky from back in the salad days of German Expressionism. Indeed, Michael Ballhaus's cinematography in the service of the lustrous Pfeiffer recalls Josef von Sternberg's magic with Marlene Dietrich in "Morocco" and "The Blue Angel."

Gifted director-scenarist Kloves seems to have built a sibling rivalry drama of the Baker Boys around the musical numbers, festooned with such heart-stopping pop standards as "Ten Cents a Dance," "Makin' Whoopee," "More Than You Know" and "Funny Valentine." Pfeiffer breathes all sorts of sensual messages into the songs with her intimately throaty delivery. She also projects an updated tough-dame persona from the '30s.

The location shooting in Seattle is almost worth the price of the cassette. The lonely sheen on the dark streets, the multicolored lighting in the clubs, the moody grayness of hung-over mornings all reflect a vision of disenchantment more European than American.

But the characters are more grown-up than most of the fantasy figures designed for today's kiddie movie market. The Baker Boys, particularly, learn to live with and within their limitations.

The Bridges brothers are inspired casting as the Baker Boys. Having two real-life brothers play reel brothers is described as "Bazinian doubling" (the late critic Andre Bazin viewed cinema as an imprint of reality). Jeff is the flighty, sexy one; Beau the sturdy, solid one -- in both the Baker and the Bridges families.

Anyone who has known sibling rivalry should find the final fraternal showdown ringing true and striking deep. All this and Pfeiffer, too. "The Fabulous Baker Boys" is a video release to treasure.

VIDEO REVIEW MAGAZINE

THE WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP