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updated: 6/19/2014 2:36 PM

Disappointing 'Jersey Boys' hangs on to stage feel

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  • Clint Eastwood's disappointing translation of the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys" stars John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli, Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi.

      Clint Eastwood's disappointing translation of the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys" stars John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli, Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi.

  • Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) cuts loose in Clint Eastwood's musical "Jersey Boys."

      Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) cuts loose in Clint Eastwood's musical "Jersey Boys."

  • Video: "Jersey Boys"

 
 

The closing credits to Clint Eastwood's clunky cinematic take on Broadway's Tony-winning jukebox show "Jersey Boys" resemble a full-blown Bollywood musical finale. Cast members take to the street, joyously executing spiffy dance steps to a Four Seasons hit song.

This type of broad production number fit perfectly at the end of "Slumdog Millionaire." Not so much here, especially when the movie begins as a film-noiry look at the Four Seasons group, with Tom Stern's color-starved footage suggesting a gritty Martin Scorsese-inspired street drama shot on a studio lot.

Your eyes may adore this film, but it can't lay a hand on a uniform approach to its pop culture subjects.

This mishmash of a movie musical gives us a disappointingly restrained performance by Christopher Walken as mob figure Gyp DeCarlo, key scenes played with emotional flat notes and only two of the Four Seasons properly turning in pitch-perfect performances.

Then, in a major transitional misstep, Eastwood's stars imitate their live-stage counterparts by directly addressing us, the audience, to fill in details, confess their feelings and comment on the obvious.

This device works well within the artifice of live theater, but in the more literal medium of movies -- particularly this near-neo-noir one -- characters chatting us up proves to be distracting, even jarring, as they temporarily pull us out of the story, and we're stuck working our way back to it.

In 1951 New Jersey, we meet teenage Frankie Castelluccio (Tony winner John Lloyd Young), being prepped for a career as a barber. His frequently jailed petty criminal pal and guitar player Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) has big plans for Frankie's constantly improving singing voice.

He pairs up with Frankie, then adds a bass-playing buddy named Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). Over control-freak Tommy's objections, his partners partner up with a poetically inspired songwriter named Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), introduced to them by Joey Pesci (Joseph Russo), later to be just Joe.

"Jersey Boys" kicks into allegro speed the moment these four guys come together to try out Bob's first song. And you know it's just too good to be true. It's magic.

After Frankie changes his name to Valli (so it can fit on a marquee) and the group slowly discovers its own distinctive sound, "Jersey Boys" hits its stride as the Four Seasons (their name inspired by a motel sign) churn out hit after hit ("Dawn," "Walk Like a Man," "Sherry," and others), pumping Eastwood's movie full of music and irresistible nostalgia.

Written by frequent Woody Allen collaborator Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the story's events exist in a cultural vacuum where other pop groups of the era are never mentioned.

"Jersey Boys" retells a familiar story of the rise and fall of a superstar musical group, one in which the lead character sacrifices his family, led by dynamic Renee Marino, channeling her inner and outer Patti LuPone as Frankie's first wife Mary.

Piazza hits every dramatic note with credible gusto as Tommy, the group's weak link, the guy whose secret mounting debts to mobsters eventually contribute to the demise of a dream.

Bergen also nails his role as the soulful Bob, a seemingly educated innocent tossed in with street-wise survivors.

Not so with the non-sparking Lomenda, or, surprisingly, Young, whose falsetto perfectly projects the Valli sound, but whose face and eyes go curiously blank during key emo scenes, especially one in which Frankie mourns the death of his young daughter from a drug overdose.

Big girls don't cry. And their dads don't cry well.

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