Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Director Clint Eastwood continues creative slump with Jersey Boys, a drab adaptation of the Broadway musical.

Jersey Boys further proves something that Eastwood established 45 years ago with his appearance in Paint Your Wagon: Dirty Harry has no business being around a movie musical. Oh, sure, he’s musically inclined. He’s been composing scores for some of his movies, but I’d like to point out that those scores kind of suck, especially that stupid “Gran Torino” song. His musical taste travels toward the meandering and sleepy.

Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young, who performed the role on Broadway) and The Four Seasons, and how they went from being small-time hoods in New Jersey to being big-time rock stars. I’ve never seen the Broadway show, but I have to think its success means it was somewhat enjoyable and lively. Well, the movie version is neither of these things.

As in the musical, each member of the Four Seasons breaks the fourth wall to address the audience. It’s a gimmick that feels forced the way Eastwood stages it. Every time somebody faced the camera and started gabbing, I found myself getting annoyed.

Much of the film’s focus falls on Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), an early leader of the band and a bad influence on Frankie. Over the course of time, DeVito gets himself deep into debt—to the point where he has to be bailed out by a friend in the mob, represented here as Gyp DeCarlo and played by Christopher Walken in a thankless role.

The movie follows the band through its early session-musician days, and even includes a brief appearance by Joe Pesci (Joseph Russo) before his Hollywood emergence. (Pesci apparently had a real-life role in getting the band together.)

The Four Seasons have some great songs, including “Rag Doll,” “Walk Like a Man” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night!).” Young gives it a good go, belting out the hits with a voice akin to Valli’s signature falsetto. It’s admirable that Eastwood and his performers opted to have the music performed live on set rather than lip-synching. However, something happened in the final mix that flattened the overall musical presentation. The songs, although competently performed, lack a certain spark. They just feel like pale copies of the originals. (Perhaps it was the sound in the theater I was in.)

The timing of this film’s release seems a bit odd. It arrived with little to no fanfare during a drab week within the summer movie season. It’s almost as if Warner Bros. knew it had a stinker on its hands, and tried to dump the movie during a week with little competition to give it a fighting chance. Clint Eastwood films usually get high-profile, awards-season releases, but this one was snuck out there for an unresponsive public.

This is the second Eastwood-directed movie in a row (with the terrible J. Edgar) to feature brutally bad makeup. As the movie travels from the 1960s into the ’70s, it becomes a parade of bad wigs and hilarious mustaches. By the time The Four Seasons reunite for their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1990, they look, well, silly. I concocted better old-man makeup on Halloween during the 1970s using flour and baby powder.

The movie does come alive during the closing credits, when all of the members of the cast gather for a triumphant musical-medley finale. It’s the only time when Jersey Boys feels like a legitimate, joyful movie musical.

It’s much too little, way too late.

Jersey Boys is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A semi-local film made its world debut on Saturday, Jan. 4, as part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival—and 3 Nights in the Desert may very well go beyond the festival circuit, thanks in large part to its strong cast.

Three friends—Travis (Wes Bentley, The Hunger Games), Anna (Amber Tamblyn, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) and Barry (Vincent Piazza, Boardwalk Empire)—were once in a band together. Their birthdays are all within three days, and after not seeing each other for years, they decide to meet in the desert at Travis' home for their 30th birthdays. Travis meets Barry at the train station; on the drive to Travis’ home, Barry expresses discomfort about the fact that Anna will be coming.

Anna and Barry seem to have moved on after the band’s breakup. Barry is married and a tax attorney in Seattle; Anna is enjoying a successful music career as a dream-pop artist. Then there’s Travis—living in a makeshift house in the middle of the desert.

A specific event in their past haunts all three of them. Travis has a big scar on his neck and a limp; Anna and Barry discuss how Anna did all she could for Travis—only giving a hint about what really happened.

After a bonfire discussion (that includes a lot of masturbation talk), Barry and Anna find themselves being led to a cave by Travis. Travis claims that when you enter the dark cave, all of your desires will come true. Anna goes in first and comes out frightened. Barry enters next, and emerges basically unaffected.

After a moment in which the three former bandmates sing one of their songs together, the film becomes a deep, dark roller-coaster ride down memory lane. All is revealed about what tore them apart—and Travis’ real reasons for bringing them together.

3 Nights in the Desert is an intense psychological drama. Thanks in part to deep dialogue, the film never gets dull or falls flat during its 90-minute runtime.

During the post-screening Q&A session, director Gabriel Cowan, screenwriter Adam Chanzit and Piazza talked about filming 3 Nights in the high desert, near Lancaster. Amber Tamblyn—who was snowed in and could not make it to Palm Springs—also took part in the Q&A via Skype from New York.

Chanzit said he felt the desert was the perfect place for the story.

“I like the remoteness of the desert,” Chanzit said. “I really wanted these characters to exist kind of outside of time and space. … I really like the idea of them being isolated.”

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Published in Reviews