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Originally published Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 3:04 PM

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Movie review

'The Music Never Stopped': J.K. Simmons memorable as a distraught father

A movie review of "The Music Never Stopped." The great character actor J.K. Simmons is the best thing about this well-meaning, yet spare and inelegant story of how music helped his character's son regain some memories in the wake of a ravaging brain tumor.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'The Music Never Stopped,' with J.K. Simmons, Lou Taylor Pucci, Cara Seymour, Julia Ormond. Directed by Jim Kohlberg, from a screenplay by Gwyn Lurie and Gary Marks, based on "The Last Hippie" by Oliver Sacks. 105 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements, some mild drug references, language and smoking. Harvard Exit.

A surefire way to ensure a choked-up audience is to train a camera on that great bulldog of character acting, J.K. Simmons, as he helplessly breaks down from stolid stoicism into full-on man-weeping.

The display of emotion that Simmons catalogs as a confused father whose son's memory has been essentially destroyed by a brain tumor is the best thing about "The Music Never Stopped." His modulation from rage to befuddlement, grief, depression, joy and love goes a long way in providing integrity to a movie that is otherwise lackluster in dramatizing how music filled black holes in a ravaged mind.

Based on a case-study story by famed neurologist Oliver Sacks, the movie recounts how a sensitive boy named Gabe (Lou Taylor Pucci) is returned to his parents' lives dazed and amnesiac after nearly 20 years' absence. He stormed away from conservative Dad and meek Mom (Cara Seymour) as a hippie teenager in 1967, only to wander back with the barest shards of memory and an inability to form new thoughts. If he thinks at all, he thinks it's still the Summer of Love.

When his father enlists a music therapist (Julia Ormond) to try to spark connections that may or may not be retrievable, Gabe makes miraculous breakthroughs; unfortunately not the kind Dad wants. His emotional associations are triggered by Bing Crosby and Count Basie, but it's the Byrds and the Beatles that bring Gabe back to life — or at least the pieces of late '60s life that are still accessible to his mutilated psyche.

Dad rebels, resists, sobs and then allows himself to understand the son he never knew with the help of the Grateful Dead, Gabe's favorite and the key to their making a genuinely new memory together.

The spare budget is evident, and the style and script contrivances are often inelegant. But the sentiments are real without succumbing to exaggerated sentimentality, thanks in large part to that big lovable lug, J.K. Simmons.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

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