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Jersey Boys: Oh, what a drag

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When the closing credits for Jersey Boys begin to roll, the actors/singers playing The Four Seasons perform the hit "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)." It's presented as a full-fledged Broadway style song and dance number, complete with appearances from other notable cast members. The production brims with a sense of vitality missing from most of the film. Oh, what a shame.

Jersey Boys is director Clint Eastwood's take on the hit Broadway musical based on the story of The Four Seasons. Though the film includes performances of a lot of the group's chart-topping tunes, it is not a musical. Eastwood's adaptation is more a standard-issue biopic, with desaturated colors used to give it a period feel.

Eastwood's decision to pair upbeat music with a downbeat story is interesting, but the movie feels too much like a reenactment of an episode of the old VH1 Behind the Music series. There are rewards, but many opportunities are missed.

I'll recap the story in a minute, but first let's talk about the part of The Four Seasons that people care about the most: Frankie Valli's voice. Remember when you first heard the lead singer's amazing falsetto, occasionally screeching but mostly swooping higher than you thought possible for a man? Remember how weird it seemed to hear "Walk Like a Man" sung by a guy with a voice that sounded like a girl?

In a New York Times article by Mark Rotella, producer Bob Crewe says that on a night in 1962 when the group ran out of material but the audience wanted more, "Frankie picks up some maracas and does a great imitation of 1940s singer Rose Murphy in a falsetto. It was so clean, so crisp." Composer and band member Bob Guadio was supposedly so inspired by that weird, wonderful falsetto that he went home and wrote the Number 1 hit "Sherry" in 15 minutes. Isn't that interesting? Shame we don't see that in the movie.

The Four Seasons were built on Frankie Valli and that voice, but we never get a real sense of the man behind the high notes. Actor John Lloyd Young does a great job recreating Valli's falsetto, but has a distant look in his eyes that keeps the character separate from the proceedings. Three members of the group address the audience directly (as in the musical), but not Valli. He remains above ... apart.

About the story: The group is formed in 1961, with Valli recruited by his best pal Tommy (Vincent Piazza) to join him and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). Later they invite Guadio (Erich Bergen), who co-wrote the hit "Short Shorts," to make it a foursome. After connecting with producer Crewe (well-played by Mike Doyle) the hits start happening, followed by the usual friction and fractures experienced by successful groups. Tommy's debt to a loan shark triggers much of the trouble. Thankfully, the boys' mobster father figure Gyp (Christopher Walken, wonderful as usual) is able to intervene.

So there you go. The plot is routine, with undernourished secondary stories. The bottom line is that the film version of Jersey Boys offers great songs and a satisfying performance by Christopher Walken. Everything else is almost instantly forgettable.

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Related Film

Jersey Boys

Official Site: www.facebook.com/JerseyBoysMovie

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Marshall Brickman

Cast: Christopher Walken, Vincent Piazza, Freya Tingley, Francesca Eastwood, Kathrine Narducci, James Madio and Mike Doyle

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