Dir. John Badham
Starring: Kevin Costner, David Grant, Rae Dawn Chong, Alexandra Paul
“It’s like Top Gun on push bikes.”
With that, Natalie pushed something into my hands. It was a VHS video cassette. With this glowing endorsement how could I not consider American Flyers for one of my
In some ways American Flyers has aged less well than Top Gun however. It is *so* ‘80s. The fact that it came on VHS (after having never been released in the
on DVD) really got me in the
mood. There is a pumping synth-rock sound-track with wonderfully over-earnest
lyrics (I challenge any viewer to not come out singing along to Glenn
Shorrocks’s “Let’s go – American Flyers!”).
There are personal battles to fight as well as political – Marcus has a history
with ex-teammate Muzzin, and the Soviet Belov (with their red uniforms, well
orchestrated team, and recourse to cheating) is accused of only being Olympic
champion by default due to the UK
boycott of the Moscow Olympics. (As a matter of fact Muzzin also has a rant
about the policymakers in Washington who withdrew the United States from that
competition depriving him of something he had been training for all his life. “I’m not riding for U.S. !” he
states). A young Kevin Costner is in it – with a beautiful moustache. There are
an inordinate amount of shots and scenes and conversations involving McDonalds.
And during the opening sequence Davey is seen cresting a hill with the entire
background being taken up by a superimposed American flag, flying in the wind.
The film really pushes the ‘ America America’
of its title (the race commentary continually points out that the Hell of the
West cycle competition is tougher and at higher altitudes than anything in Europe). Oddly enough the director, John Badham (of Saturday Night Fever, WarGames and Short Circuit fame), was actually born in ; even
more oddly, he is the elder brother of Mary Badham, who played Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Britain
So in the same way that Top Gun is about more than just flying fighter planes, American Flyers is about more than cycling. It is about family. Marcus (Kevin Costner) and Davey (David Grant) are two very different brothers, still trying to come to terms with family tragedy. Their father had died from a cerebral aneurysm. The driven Marcus would not forgive his mother for how she dealt with her husband’s illness and walked out, moving to
to become a sports physician. The free-wheelin’ cowboy-hat-wearing Davey stayed
with her in Madison, Wisconsin .
He is less focused and has dropped out of pre-med and pre-law at university; he
is currently majoring in Eastern philosophy and cowboy movies (“The ying and the yang and the bang-bang.”)
But he is starting to worry that he may have inherited his father’s condition.
Marcus takes him to his sports institute to check him out. Their rivalry spurs
David to outlast his brother on a stamina test. But he then overhears a
conversation between Marcus and Dr Conrad (John Amos) that seems to suggest
that Davey has the same symptoms as his father. It seems important for them to
reconnect, and the best way is their shared love of cycling. They both enter as
a team into a notoriously tough cycling competition called ‘The Hell of the
West’ with three separate stages dotted around the Colorado Rockies. There is a
real sense of Marcus passing on his drive and sense of purpose to his carefree
younger bro. St Louis
|"Nice tash Kev"|
"Nice hat Dave"
I have never seen a good sport movie. This could well be because most movies come out of
America, and thrives on niche sports
that fail to exist anywhere beyond their borders like baseball and American
football. Really, I have only ever been able to enjoy a sports film for its
cheesiness (I’m looking at you, Escape to
Victory!). Taken on the same grounds American
Flyers is actually pretty watchable. It also helps that the rules of cycle
racing are pretty clear – get to the finishing line as quick as you can. Where
there are variable rules – such as the four sprint flags in the second stage –
the film gets around them by having Marcus talk his brother through tactics.
Action during the race itself is helpfully explained by a commentator. The
commentary, the ‘80s aesthetic, the synth-heavy score, the occasional snarled
comment from Muzzin (of the “Watch your
line!” or “Enough of this Sunday stroll!” calibre) make the cycle races feel
surprisingly engrossing – like playing Daley
Thompson’s Decathlon on a ZX Spectrum. And while I could tell from the
outset that the business end of the competition would be a duel between the
Muzzin, Belov and the Sommers boys, I honestly did not know who was going to be
crowned champion. OK, sure, the ending is a touch sentimental, and the film
closes without really covering the ‘what happens next’ of someone suffering
from a cerebral aneurysm, but I would tend to class this film as a hidden gem
and well worth a watch. America
What have I learnt about
I was worried that the answer was going to be ‘nothing’. The film opens on the bank of the
in , Missouri, paddleboats and the Gateway Arch in the background. The action then shifts to St Louis .
Finally we reach Madison, Wisconsin .
And it was worth the wait. The mountain scenery, the wiggling roads with
precipitous drops, the lunar landscape of the ‘Mountains of the Moon’ in the Colorado present a
breath-taking backdrop for the race scenes. The landscape is tough and
uncompromising – think the Mont Ventoux stages of the Tour de France, but
higher and hotter and repeated day after day. Looking at the infrastructure,
the crowds and the peloton of riders a conclusion can easily be drawn that this
cycle race is something that actually exists, and which the filmmakers have
piggy-backed on to. In actual fact this is correct: the ‘Coors Classic’ took
place in Colorado National Monument
from 1975 to 1988. Colorado
Can we go there?
The Coors Classic no longer runs, but the sites associated with it in
can still be visited. The Morgul-Bismarck circuit race (stage 1 of the
fictitious ‘Hell of the West’) was a real stage near Colorado Boulder
– ‘The Wall’ is in .
There was a stage – known as ‘’The Tour of the Moon’ – along Rim Rock Drive
through the Colorado National Monument (cyclists today must stay in single file and have front and rear lights fitted ).
Stage three commences in Golden (home of the Coors brewery which can be
prominently seen) and runs along the Mount Evans Scenic Byway to Superior ,
near Idaho Springs. Echo Lake
you can cycle along Laclede’s Landing in . A lot of the road-cycling scenes en route to St
Louis Colorado actually took place in . The McDonalds where Davey meets
Becky (Alexandra Paul), for instance, is in Kansas . McPherson, Kansas
Overall Rating: 3/5
Overall Rating: 3/5