|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 01 June 2004|
On the one hand, 'Vision Quest' could hardly be more formulaic or predictable. On the other hand, it is breezy and well-made, sort of like a decent TV-movie with excellent photography and an '80s all-star pop/rock soundtrack.
Louden Swain (Matthew Modine), an Oregon high school wrestling star, has just turned 18 and decides that he wants to go up against the undefeated state champion. Louden's problem is that he has to drop 23 pounds in order to be in the right weight class. At the same time, fate lands the gorgeous, tough-talking 21-year-old out-of-towner Carla (Linda Fiorentino) virtually on Louden's doorstep--at least until she can make enough money to get her car fixed. Louden becomes as fixated on Carla as he is on his wrestling goals.
That's all there is to Darryl Ponicsan's screenplay, based on a novel by Terry Davis. Although Louden's "vision quest" is ostensibly inspired by both his interest in alternative traditions (the "vision quest" is a Native American concept) his continuous search for deeper existential meaning, the characters never seem to have much originality. However, they are all oddly likable, and director Harold Becker gets consistently persuasive, agreeable performances from all members of the cast. Modine is convincingly callow yet unswervingly determined, Fiorentino is profoundly sexy (though the sex scenes themselves are virtually done in discreet silhouette) and Daphne Zuniga and Forest Whitaker both show up as two of Louden's fellow students.
Owen Roizman's camerawork is really lovely, with particularly highlights being the sepia-toned color in his shots of rivers and bridges in the opening credits montage in Chapter 2, accompanied by Journey's "Only the Young," and some magical work with reflections when Louden is on heartbroken walkabout in Chapter 24. The Tangerine Dream score registers effectively, with well-mixed songs by Foreigner, John Waite, Dio, Sammy Hagar, Quarterflash, REO Speedwagon, Red Rider, the Style Council, Don Henley and Berlin all used throughout as audio mood-setters.
One of 'Vision Quest''s greater claims to fame is the first big-screen appearance of Madonna, who shows up in Chapter 11 as a bar band chanteuse crooning two songs--"Gambler" and "Crazy for You"--at the mike while Louden's love for Carla intensifies. It's startling to see her in performance before fame and confidence took over, and it's intriguing to ponder how the entertainer's career might have gone had she let herself stay a little longer with the unfamiliar onstage persona she displays here. As for the song "Crazy for You" itself, it's repeated so much (both with and without vocals) throughout the rest of 'Vision Quest' that by the end, you may feel a bit crazy from it. The DVD has no supplemental materials, though the chapter listings on the packaging include information on where some (but not all) of the songs can be found within the film.