Three brothers reunite for the first time in five years, to drive a car home for their mother's birthday.
In 1963, three mismatched brothers - suedehead air force martinet Stern, newly-graduated mild-mannered wimp Gross and borderline juvenile delinquent Dempsey - who have not seen each other for years are forced by their remote inventor father to get together and drive a classic 1954 Cadillac Coupe de Ville down from Detroit to Miami as a birthday present for their mother.
The brothers' first problem is making the trip without killing each other, but they also have to deal with a hefty repair bill if they want to repair the damage their reckless driving inflicts on the streamlined dream machine. Further problems come up when Gross' girlfriend (Annabeth Gish, in a self-effacing bit) turns out to have dumped him for a vicious hulk and an uncle has lost all the money needed to restore the car at the greyhound track.
A period "road movie" with the traditional Golden Oldies soundtrack - in a scene that could have been borrowed from Barry Levinson's filmography, the brothers hilariously try to interpret the lyrics of "Louie, Louie" - this is in the spirit of spiky nostalgia pictures like Stand By Me, Baby It's You and Levinson's Diner. Coupe De Ville spotlights perfect performances from a trio of young actors who have individually paid their dues in enough bad movies to fill the world's biggest video store, but who here are given material they can soar with. Not only are these fine individual characterisations, but they also work as a family ensemble, especially when Alan Arkin is thrown in as their infuriating father.
Like many a nostalgic character piece, it teeters on the edge of sentiment - its only significant flaw is a music score that too often triple-underlines emotional points the actors are quite capable of making on their own - but constantly snatches itself away. Directed by Joe Roth, (who went on to direct misfires like America's Sweethearts and Christmas With The Kranks but who has a fine record as a producer), this is an unexpected treat.
The film boasts a marvellous feel for the edgy rancour that creeps into many a family relationship, and generally manages to stay on the "character study" side of sentimentality.