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‘Coupe de Ville’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 23, 1990


Joe Roth
Daniel Stern;
Patrick Dempsey;
Arye Gross;
Alan Arkin
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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"Coupe de Ville" floats along like a classic Caddy, spruce but not pretentious, nostalgic but not schmaltzy, impractical as a teenager's dreams. Based on the reminiscences of actor-writer Mike Binder, it is a sentimental comic journey taken by three estranged brothers whose young egos are as easily bruised as the chrome bumpers of yesteryear.

Daniel Stern, Patrick Dempsey and Arye Gross are the refreshingly ordinary Binder brothers -- Marvin, Buddy and Bobby -- who are brought together when their father asks them to drive a '54 Cadillac from Michigan to Florida in time for their mother's 50th birthday. It's a low-key "Rain Man" for three, a tender opportunity for brotherly bonding while whistling along America's blue highways.

Marvin, the eldest, is an Air Force sergeant inclined to lord it over Buddy, a new college graduate, and Bobby, a rebel in boarding school. It's 1963, either three or five years since they've all been together, they can't remember exactly, but the siblings are soon squabbling as if they were all sharing a room again. A bit slow to get rolling, the comedy picks up quirks and momentum as they cruise south, and their differences in age, taste and temperament turn the whalemobile into an upholstered hell.

Forever arguing over control of the car radio, the brothers nearly come to blows over their various interpretations of "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen. For the adolescent Bobby, it is a "hump song"; for the romantic Buddy, a love song; and for the autocratic Marvin, a sea chantey. Though directed by Joe Roth, it has the emotional colors of one of Barry Levinson's Baltimore stories. It's a prickly but evocative comedy that slips up and puts an arm around you.

Roth, the new chairman of 20th Century Fox, has made some middling to terrible high-concept films -- "Young Guns" and "Major League" among them. But this movie, perhaps his last, is surprisingly pensive and character-driven. The leads, all likably genuine, are aided by veterans Alan Arkin and Joseph Bologna as their crusty father, Fred, and their high-rolling uncle, who at once love but can't stand each other. Realizing that he doesn't want that for his sons, Fred devises the cross-country scheme to reunite them. As with Miss Daisy and her chauffeur, it works.

Americans, who love a motor-driven movie, are easily mesmerized by the plot rolling by like cornfields and billboards. "Coupe de Ville" speaks to that love of the open road but keeps a gentle pace. Though far from flawless, it does get where it's going.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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