Med City Movie Guy: 'Jersey Boys' sadly forces the funny

jersey boys.jpg
From left, Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito, John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi in Warner Bros. Pictures' musical "Jersey Boys," is now playing.

As I recall it ended much too soon.

I am referring to "Jersey Boys," the popular Tony Award-winning musical that's been a Broadway mainstay since its 2005 opening. It chronicles the rocky rise of a few guys singing under a streetlamp in Belleville, N.J., to their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

From the early 1960s through the mid-70s, Frankie Valli and/or The Four Seasons had more than two dozen hits on the Billboard charts. "Jersey Boys" expertly wove their discography, roguish backgrounds and downright criminal connections into an energetic, funny and interactive experience.

Academy Award-winning director Clint Eastwood tried to bring that magic to the big screen, and while the music alone is worth the price of admission, the film is no substitute for the live musical.

The core band included Valli and co-founder Tommy DeVito as well Nick Massi, but the trio stalled until they brought in songwriter Bob Gaudio. It was Gaudio's talent that put them on the charts and his business acumen that rattled DeVito and subsequently fractured the band. Holding the story together is a strong thread of loyalty that nicely comes together at their 1990 Cleveland reunion.


Almost scene for scene, this one tracks to the musical. But audience engagement is absent and the humor misses. Massi, for example, is notoriously silent but eventually can no longer hold his tongue and lets rip an epic rant about DeVito hogging all of the hotel towels. On stage this is hysterical, on film it bombs.

Instead, Eastwood forces the fun. A television shows a scene from TV's "Rawhide," in which the director starred in his younger days. Prominent in the Castelluccio family home is a framed pair of photos: Frank Sinatra and the Pope.

Perhaps most clever is an exchange between Gaudio and a young Joe Pesci, who originally introduced the songwriter to DeVito and Valli. "That's funny," Gaudio says in a response to a quip, to which Pesci deadpans, "Funny how?"

Christopher Walken co-stars as Gyp DeCarlo, the band's mobbed-up guardian angel, and his is the film's only familiar face, though fans will recognize the voice of John Lloyd Young, who was Broadway's original Valli.

I had high expectations that my favorite musical would be my favorite film. It was too good to be true.

Three honks.

Dozens of films got their start hoofed on stage. The most popular ones are probably "West Side Story," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Grease" and "Cabaret." Others lost something in the translation like these:


Chicago  (2002) Lots of energy from Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger, but am I the only one nonplussed by Wisconsin director Rob Marshall’s take on this Roaring Twenties Murderess' Row tale?

Dreamgirls  (2006) Starred Jamie Foxx, Beyonce, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson. And I am telling you … big names are no guarantee, especially in this loose Supremes biopic.

Jesus Christ Superstar  (1973) I love the Broadway soundtrack, but the sight of hippies flooding out of an old bus like clowns from a VW to perform the Passion Play really put my faith (in screen adaptations) to the test.

Rock of Ages  (2012) From Oklahoma to Hollywood fame. Right, don’t stop believin’, but in the meantime get used to asking if they want that macchiato tall, grande or venti.

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