Frank and Jack Baker (real-life brothers Beau and Jeff Bridges) are a cocktail lounge piano duo who content themselves playing to empty bars night after night.
But when they employ professional escort turned sultry torch singer Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer) in an effort to revitalise their act, her arrival brings long-suppressed tensions to the surface.
From her first entrance, Pfeiffer charges things up.
Susie has come to audition for the Baker boys, who think a girl singer might add glitz and bookings to their limp fifteen-year-old act. The boys have already heard 37 hilariously off-key canaries (Jennifer Tilly crucifying The Candy Man is the funniest) before Susie shows up.
She’s late, her heel is broken, and she’s got gum stuck to her lip. Yet Susie cons the boys into listening to her warble More Than You Know.
Pfeiffer does her own vocalising – she’s good enough to keep you attentive (if not eager to buy the soundtrack), but Jack thinks that Susie’s sweet voice and sumptuous body add up to a hot combo.
At first, Susie, with her French cigarettes, world-weary manner and four-letter vocabulary, seems all brash surface. But Pfeiffer lets us see the scared kid inside.
When Jack, a jazz talent who hates himself for wasting his life noodling out elevator music for drunks, starts responding to the emotion Susie puts into her songs, she bristles. Susie recognises herself in Jack: They’re both losers who’ve sold themselves on the cheap.
But her attraction to Jack is real. On one of their better gigs, at a resort hotel, she lets it show. Draping herself over Jack’s piano in a slinky red dress, Susie sings a torchy version of Makin’ Whoopee that brings down the house and her defences.
Sweetly directed by screenwriter Steve Kloves in his directing debut, the film smoothly zeroes in on many universal truths along its delightful way, with the fabulous Bridges boys’ faultless timing and expert underplaying allowing Pfeiffer to shine radiantly.
You won’t forget her sizzling rendition of Makin’ Whoopee in a hurry, either.