Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jeff Bridges, Joan Allen, Martin Landau, Frederic Forrest, Mako, Elias Koteas, Christian Slater, Nina Siemaszko, Don Novello, Dean Stockwell
Written by: Arnold Schulman, David Seidler
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 110
Date: 08/12/1988

Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Car Wars

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola is generally not remembered for anything he made after the 1970s, his Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) -- co-produced by pal George Lucas -- is one of the best movies about the flip-side of the American Dream. Though it's constructed with more fairy-tale than fact, its bright, shiny, peppy attitude is enough overcome the movie's not-quite resounding, but necessary, conclusion.

Jeff Bridges plays a smiling, chipper Preston Tucker, a dreamer with boundless energy (the movie poster depicts him standing triumphantly in front of the American flag), who, in the 1940s, comes up with a fantastic new idea for a car; its most distinguished feature was its third, centered headlight.

But of course, Tucker must tangle with the "Big Three" American auto makers, which will do absolutely anything to maintain their own profits and eliminate any threats. Bridges is the key to this (Marlon Brando had once been considered for the part), bringing continuous optimism and hope to the pessimistic tale. Christian Slater has an early role as Tucker's eldest son, with Joan Allen as his wife, Elias Koteas, Frederic Forrest, Don Novello, and Dean Stockwell as an ominous Howard Hughes.

Some enjoyed the Capra-esque touches to the movie, as well as Jeff Bridges' jovial performance, but some understandably thought it was annoying (perhaps missing the point). Martin Landau received the first of three career Oscar nominations for his role as financier Abe Karatz. The movie also received nominations for set design and costume design. Sadly, like the car itself, it was a flop. Today, visitors to Coppola's winery in Sonoma County can get a look at one of the actual Tucker cars in person.

For its 30th anniversary, Lionsgate released a spiffy new Blu-ray that couldn't be more sparkly; the film looks and sounds terrific. Director Coppola provides a short introduction (standing in front of the aforementioned Tucker car), and a commentary track. There's a deleted scene, a 10-minute making-of featurette (assembled from footage shot at the time), and a 1948 Tucker promotional film (which also comes with a Coppola commentary track). I hope this movie's reputation improves now that people can take a fresh look at it.

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