Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, John Lloyd Young and Michael Lomenda rock out (in a nice, clean way) in "Jersey Boys." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, John Lloyd Young and Michael Lomenda rock out (in a nice, clean way) in "Jersey Boys."
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

‘Jersey Boys’
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

“Jersey Boys,” the film of the unstoppable musical behemoth, begins with future Four Seasons member Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) talking directly to the camera during an active camera movement. This is what’s surprising about Clint Eastwood directing this picture — not that the Man With No Name is doing Broadway, but that he’s kicking into a considerably more caffeinated gear. Since 1971, when he debuted as director with the proto-“Fatal Attraction” thriller “Play Misty for Me,” Eastwood has established a laconic, some have said sleepy style consciously imitating the old Hollywood masters. (Except that many of the old masters, even John Ford, were more keyed-up than their reputation may have it.) That he’s playing with the fourth wall — or playing at all — is very un-Clint, and this is the sprightliest film he's ever made, which isn't saying much

Such moments, alas, remain thin on the ground. Even in a more energetic gear, this is, for better and worse (but for better), a Clint Eastwood movie. Two decades ago he located the deep feelings in the hunk of cackle-inducingly florid trash that was “The Bridges of Madison County.” Here he brings an air of dignity and relative realism to a candy-colored jukebox musical. Granted, the tale of how The Four Seasons — led by Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) — became squeaky-clean pop gods isn’t so clean itself. They had to escape lives of crime (two had been in prison). Moreover, they swear a lot considering the show sucks hordes of Middle American tourists into its energy field.

 

Eastwood isn’t the right person to be helming this, but his inclusion is alternately inspired and misguided in ways obvious and not-so-obvious. He dials down the garishness to the point where it’s nearly nonexistent. The stage show screams loud colors and outsized sets; this is all typical Eastwood muted browns and blacks, kicking into another level only when they mount a stage or invade a TV studio. Eastwood is probably less comfortable handling potty-mouthed Italian crime than he is Four Seasons songs. But at least he has a proven track record with films about music (“Honkytonk Man,” “Bird,” to say nothing of “Paint Your Wagon” and the “Gran Torino” theme song he sung), so that the songs don’t dominate the material. They rise organically out of a traditional biopic format.

Christopher Walken (opposite John Lloyd Young, playing Frankie Valli) is just sort of in "Jersey Boys," though it's not clear why. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures Christopher Walken (opposite John Lloyd Young, playing Frankie Valli) is just sort of in "Jersey Boys," though it's not clear why.
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

In fact, the biopic format is what’s wrong with it. The Four Seasons don't really require a story. They're almost interesting but not quite. The script fumbles around to say something deeper about how four personalities each want to give their own dramatically different side of a story. But only Piazza’s DeVito is really interesting, even if he’s a stereotypical goodfella who only mildly chills once he’s raking in a regular fortune. And each story can barely fuel a subplot. Poor Michael Lomenda’s Nick Massi hangs in the background till launching into a tirade late in, upchucking an entire story in one broadly delivered monologue. What was dynamic on the stage becomes a mere TV movie — albeit a beautifully photographed one — as a film.

Eastwood fails to rein in some big performances, ones in some cases cultivated on stage and still playing to massive theaters. (He also isn’t sure what to do with Christopher Walken who, as a laid-back crime boss, just seems to have been invited to hang around and wound up on camera by accident.) But it’s not Eastwood’s fault this isn’t magnetic. He brings taste if also lethargy. In fact, even the mightiest auteurist would flail about trying to find a reason he accepted the job in the first place.

See our interviews with directorClint Eastwood, starsJohn Lloyd YoungandVincent Piazzaand writersRick Elice and Marshall Brickman.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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