'Jersey Boys' strikes false chord for a musical

June 29, 2014

Even though “Jersey Boys” frequently breaks the fourth wall by having its leads speak directly to the camera, it never feels like a musical until its final scene, where our leads croon under a streetlight and a background crowd erupts in a dance number.

Where were you hiding that movie, Clint?

Because for two hours and 10 minutes leading up to that, we might as well have been watching a Lifetime dramatization of “The Four Seasons Story,” just sprinkled with a few more F-bombs.

I realize this will come as heresy to the senior set at which this is aimed. I gathered from crowd reactions at my screening that the film was Oscar-worthy the second director Clint Eastwood’s name popped on the screen. But for anyone who was hoping for something that pulsed with the life that made the play on which it’s based such a hit on Broadway, you may want to save your money for the stage version.

Eastwood deserves credit for being as prodigious a director as he is at his age, still pumping out films when most would be comfortable just walking their dog along a sandy beach with a metal detector.

They’ve been uneven, for sure. But you have to admire the guy’s ambition. He seems at his strongest when working with a historical slant (“Flags of Our Fathers,” “Sands of Iwo Jima”) or intimate tales (“Million Dollar Baby,” “The Changeling”). But he’s hardly the first director when you think of pop or rock music. Let’s face it, the last time Eastwood’s name was associated with a musical, we got “Paint Your Wagon.”

Eastwood decides to dump out the music-and-dance numbers for a more dramatic approach, albeit one with musical interludes. It doesn’t help matters that the behind-the-scenes saga of the Four Seasons is just not that compelling. Fights over money, women on the road … we’ve kind of seen this all before.

Tommy DeVito (played by Vincent Piazza), Frankie Valli (played by John Lloyd Young) and Nick Massi (played by Michael Lomenda) are all rudderless, likeable little thugs stirring things up in New Jersey in the 1950s. They are introduced to Bob Gaudio (played by Erich Bergen), and they are soon off and running as The Four Seasons. Then the film just walks us through the fame-and-fortune treadmill for the next 90 joyless minutes. This is perhaps the main issue with “Jersey Boys”: just how lifeless and rote the movie is considering its source was a popular musical. Even when the film deals with the dour turns (suicide, infidelity), it addresses them so quickly and without resonance that we have no time to let any of it soak in before we are on to the next scene. The young cast is serviceable, and they can lip-synch along with the songs and seem to mimic the chord progressions accurately (something I always look for in films that have actors portraying musicians). It’s only Christopher Walken in a small role as a mid-level gangster that adds any levity to the proceedings.

What may have been a refreshing summer break from the clanging noise of superheroes and battling robots (remember, Valli sang the lead song in that enduring summer movie musical “Grease”?) turns out to be a bloated TV movie that will soon be featured in a multi-pack DVD along with “Rock of Ages” and “Mamma Mia.”