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Originally published Thursday, June 19, 2014 at 12:05 AM

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‘Jersey Boys’ bops along from stage to screen

A review of the walky/talky “Jersey Boys” — a film version of the jukebox musical. Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald gives the movie 2.5 stars on a scale of 4.


Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review ★★½  

‘Jersey Boys,’ with John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken, Mike Doyle, Renee Marino, Erica Piccininni. Directed by Clint Eastwood, from a screenplay by Marshall Brookman and Rick Elice, with songs by Bob Guadio and Bob Crewe. 134 minutes. Rated R for language throughout. Several theaters.

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Get used to plenty of walking and talking in Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys”; its characters, like their counterparts in the popular stage version, offer narration directly to the audience/camera without breaking stride. In the theater, this probably plays just fine; in a movie, it’s a little stagy — plus you keep wondering, with all that speed-walking, if they’re going to trip. The film, a song-filled tale of the four young men from New Jersey who become the pop group The Four Seasons, is always likable and often great fun, but it’s an uneasy mix of stage and screen. It trips, fairly often, but never falls.

Eastwood brings a clear affection for the music to the film, which follows the quartet from early-’50s New Jersey to the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame 40 years later. (One of many stage-to-screen problems: It’s no easy trick for an actor to age from 16 to 60-ish on camera.) The three original members — Frankie (John Lloyd Young), Tommy (Vincent Piazza, of TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”) and Nicky (Michael Lomeda) — are from a rough neighborhood; newcomer Bob (Erich Bergen) brings them some sophistication. (Early on, when Bob says something about T.S. Eliot, an awed blonde purrs “You’re not from around here, are you?”) Their star rises quickly, along with the inevitable personal toll of fame; their connection with mob boss Gyp (Christopher Walken, in a glorified walk-on role but making beautiful music of a Jersey accent) perpetually reminds them of where they came from.

Many of the cast members come from Broadway or touring “Jersey Boy” productions — a risky choice by Eastwood but one that mostly pays off. Young, reprising his Tony Award-winning stage role as lead singer Frankie Valli (he of the voice so uncannily high it’s as if he’s being played at the wrong speed), has an entertainingly smart-mouthed ease on screen; opposite him, Bergen displays a quiet, low-key charm. Lomeda, though, needed to dial his performance down a few notches — his twitchy, sneery portrayal seemed pitched to the balcony seats. But they sing together beautifully, and you wish the movie would settle into the songs a bit; we hear a lot of excerpts but few complete musical numbers.

As “Jersey Boys” bops along, in its cheery retro way (“Step up the 8-track!” someone bellows), its structure gets a little odd; late in the film, we’re asked to care deeply for a character we barely know, and the timeline jumps around unnecessarily. It feels theatrical in many ways — the Jersey streets look like sets, and a late scene features perhaps the most fake-looking snow ever to fall on screen — and its final moment is basically a curtain call. The energy of the music and the performers, as well as numerous unexpected moments of wit, carries it along; you wish it were a little better, but you nonetheless enjoy.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



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