Remember the joke about the guy who won’t quit his job sweeping up after circus elephants because he would hate to give up show biz? Well, expand it to the proportions of a feature film, switch the job to something equally unrewarding (like being a lounge pianist), add a romantic subplot, and you have The Fabulous Baker Boys.

Except for stunning Michelle Pfeiffer, whose performance netted her an Academy Award nomination. She is what saves Baker Boys from cliché. Cast as a call girl-turned-singer who comes between piano-playing brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges, Pfeiffer thoroughly deserves her ”sexiest woman in the movies” rubric. In fact, she’s a marvel in this film — so funny and vulnerable that she almost makes her indifferently written bad-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold into something three-dimensional and believable. Also, she’s surprisingly effective as a singer, with more than a hint of Julie London’s throaty sensuality.

The picture’s flaws do grate a bit, especially in the less involving environment of the living room. Much of The Fabulous Baker Boys is no more than a sustained tease leading up to the big sex scene; you find yourself thinking ”When, already?” And it’s confusing that when Jeff Bridges’ disillusioned hipster goes off to play ”real” jazz in some smoky dive, the music he plays is the same cocktail fluff heard throughout the picture.

Still, believability isn’t the point here; it’s the old-fashioned star chemistry and Hollywood glitz, which the picture has in abundance. The Bridges boys work well together — Jeff, in particular, underplays to excellent comedic effect. The camera work, by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, is a nice mixture of arty stylization and realist grit.

As adult fairy tales go, The Fabulous Baker Boys is better than most.

The Fabulous Baker Boys
  • Movie
  • 114 minutes