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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jersey Boys 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

Jersey BoysDirector: Clint Eastwood
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken

Considered a flop back in 1969, Clint Eastwood's role in Paint Your Wagon was probably the last time he had anything to do with musically in the world of cinema (except for directing Bird and the fact that Dirty Harry had a hand in composing the score for Mystic River). Now I wouldn't call his new film Jersey Boys (the flick I'm reviewing) unwatchable. But I know there are some critics and audience members out there that might think otherwise. They would almost be inclined to label this thing "Paint Your Jersey." Anyway, what we have featured here (at two plus hours), is a standardized biopic based on an award winning play, a play about a pop group (The Four Seasons) I grew up listening to despite being born in the mid-70's (what can I say, I'm an old soul).

Resembling an early timeline akin to Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and shades of Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club (the 1960's version of course), Jersey Boys chronicles New Jersey's favorite sons, the inaugural boy band The Four Seasons. "Boys" takes you through the early years of the group's inception, their connection to the mob, and everything else leading up to Frankie Valli's solo performance with 1967's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." The lead actor John Lloyd Young, does a great job of portraying lead singer Valli. He may not look like him (he looks more like a young Anthony LaPaglia than Valli) but plays the role with a straight faced discipline. Plus, his voice is not too shabby.

The biggest misstep with Jersey Boys however, can be found in the tiresome narration by each member of the band. Instead of having their voices be in the background, they all look into the camera and explain various events that happened during their tenure (Ray Liotta did this in the previously mentioned Goodfellas but he didn't commit overkill like these guys do). It becomes laughable at some point and eye rolling. I've never met Clint Eastwood but if I did, I seriously would have told him to tone it down. Oh and there's another laughable element throughout in which almost every outdoor scene literally looks fake as if it was blatantly filmed on a sound stage (rather than harboring the look of an actual location). Production values suffer and that's never been the case in films directed by the so-called "man with no name" (ha ha).

Now Eastwood in my opinion, should stick with making Westerns or heavy dramas anyway. I do give him credit though for directing Jersey Boys at such a fast clip (which is not like him). Until the film's second half turns sluggish and draggy (the same holds true for his directional stint Changeling in 2008), "Boys" starts out with a lot of energy as true story events bounce relentlessly from one scene to the next. The unbridled Hollywood legend does a good job of showcasing the various performance scenarios. He does the conventional thing by having the camera slowly glide by them as they belt out their hits. He doesn't do a lot with close-ups. Nevertheless, it works to a degree. But as always, he loves to shoot sequences with soft, white lighting to go along with a lot of black and white background hues. Even if his movies have mounds of energy, the look is somewhat drab, dark, and dreary. And about the weak second half, it's plagued with your typical musical biopic cliches. You know, the drugs, the conflict between band members, the unhappy wives of rock stars, the rise and fall of musical icons, yada yada yada. Jersey Boys contains a lot of this but inhabits no potent, emotional connection between the viewer and itself. It's a vehicle better served as a documentary on VH1 or the Biography Channel (if you know what I mean).

If anything, the biggest reason to watch this thing is to embrace its smooth blend of storytelling in the first hour and of course, the music. It's timeless and the band is well deserving of their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status (The Four Seasons get inducted towards the end of the running time and the makeup on each of the actor's faces looks like bad, white powder plastered all over). In conclusion, as an exercise in true story escapism, these "boys" get a muted, mixed review from me.

Of note: look for Christopher Walken playing a tolerant, sympathetic mob boss (he's really in his element here) and a cameo by Eastwood himself that's not what you think (he's in a movie playing on an old television set during the first 30 minutes of "Boys" and I couldn't figure out which one it was).

Written by Jesse Burleson

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