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‘Tucker: A Man and His Dream’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 12, 1988

"Tucker: The Man and His Dream." It could be "Francis Coppola: The Man and His Dream." The flamboyant director has found more than a few parallels between himself and the visionary and ill-fated auto builder Preston Tucker, who struggled to rev up the industry's sluggish status quo.

Goosed into coherence by executive producer George Lucas (reunited with Coppola for the first time since "American Graffiti"), Coppola and screenwriters Arnold Schulman and David Seidler have constructed a morality play that pits a band of goodnatured conceptualists (a fine Jeff Bridges as Tucker and his merry men designers, including Martin Landau, Frederick Forrest and Japanese actor Mako) against the political-industrial philistines. His structure thus outlined, Coppola is free to suffuse "Tucker" with his dizzying flash.

Nobody does it better: Pristine images glide past you with the just-waxed brilliance of an assembly line of new Tuckers. Master cinematographer Vittorio ("The Last Emperor") Storaro's camera dives, ducks and swirls, and Joe Jackson's jazz score completes the ultraslick finish. Appropriately larger-than-life performances by Bridges, Landau, Forrest, Dean Stockwell and others lend a mythic 1940s Hollywood air to this heady, state-of-the-art experience.

As the fidgety, blue-eyed dreamer Tucker, Bridges (like Orson Welles' Charles Foster Kane in "Citizen Kane," to which "Tucker" pays frequent tribute) is the main engine. He generates the scenes, charging up his costars -- and, no doubt, the Oscar nominators. Landau, unrecognizable in white hair and beard as Tucker's Obi-Wan Kenobi Uncle Abe, is a perfect, sentimental counterweight. The cast is uniformly good, but Stockwell's delightfully demented Howard Hughes makes his throwaway cameo practically worth the price of admission.

History says Tucker: The Real Guy fell afoul of a trumped-up Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. He was eventually cleared of fraud charges but left bankrupt with his reputation, and that of his car, in ruins. "Tucker: The Movie" fine-tunes those facts with rebuilt myths from "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." In Coppola's eyes, Tucker's battle is a moral crusade on behalf of the creative spirit of America -- against the Henry Fords, the federal government and the kind of Hollywood executives who beam with pride at their latest summer-movie list while creative ventures like Coppola's Zoetrope Studios go broke.

His emotional connections with Tucker cars and this project are inextricable: Coppola actually owns a few Tucker cars; his father bought one fresh off the line in the 1940s; his son Gian Carlo, a big Tucker car fan -- and to whom "Tucker" is dedicated -- died in a gruesome boating accident last year. And that heartfelt passion seems to have fueled what could be a needed and satisfying commercial breakthrough for Coppola.

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