Marcus Sommers, a doctor who practices sports medicine in Madison, Wisconsin, drops in for a visit with his mother and younger brother David, who live together in St. Louis. Although estranged from his mother because she failed to comfort her husband when he was dying of a brain aneurysm, Marcus is concerned about David, who is showing sings of the affliction which took their father's life.
American Flyers, written by Steve Tesich (Breaking Away), offers filmgoers a double treat: a positive portrait of cross-country biking plus an affecting drama about how two brothers re-establish a relationship after drifting apart. Kevin Costner is superb as Marcus an overachiever who still has trouble with competition and expressing his emotions. David Grant puts in a stellar performance as his younger brother, a college student who has not found his identity apart from family resentments and loyalties. Rae Dawn Chong is very impressive as Marcus's tough girlfriend who can be tender as well.
Since their father's death has imposed a genetic death sentence on the two Sommers, they take special pride in signing up for the race known as "Hell of the West." They face stiff competition from a rival dubbed "Eat 'em up" Muzzin and a Russian cyclist, but the real challenge underlying the race is regaining their solidarity as brothers.
American Flyers hits high stride as the riders pass through the Rocky Mountains during the most grueling stages of the race. Thanks to the razzle-dazzle cinematography of Don Petermen and the buoyant music of Lee Ritenour and Greg Mathieson, we are caught up in the peculiar pleasures of the sport. Most satisfying however is the intimacy which flows between Marcus and David: this is the truly triumphant element of the film.