Whatever charms turned the musical "Jersey Boys" into a Tony-winning Broadway hit are sorely missed in Clint Eastwood's tone-deaf corpse of a movie. Late to the game, blandly cast and scripted with every Italian-American cliche, it is Eastwood's worst film as a director.
And it does Franki Valli and the Four Seasons no great favors either, overselling their cultural significance and rendering their story in broad, tried and trite strikes.
"Jersey Boys" follows little Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young), son of a New Jersey barber, from his teens, training to follow in dad's footsteps. But all the Italian-Americans in Belleville see bigger things for Frankie - whose voice could make him "bigger than Sinatra." If only he can get a break. If only he can stay out of trouble with his musician pal, Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), a "two-bit hustler" who does break-ins and "it fell off a truck" thefts in between gigs.
Frankie is the gang's lookout, signaling that the cops are coming by screeching "Silhouettes," the doo-wop hit by The Rays.
Since this happens in 1951 and the song didn't come out until 1957, Frankie was plainly ahead of his time. Or Eastwood has turned careless with the details.
The story arc - struggles to get a record deal, inspiration in the studio, breaking out on radio, then money troubles, internal strife, tragedy, etc. - is so familiar that it lacks a single surprise. Recycling that corny "DJ locks himself in the studio playing their first hit over and over again until the cops break down the door"? "The Buddy Holly Story" did it better back when Gary Busey was thin.
Members of the group turn, midscene (mid-concert, sometimes) to the camera and narrate their story - Tommy, Frankie, Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). Characters talk with their hands and slip from English to Italian the way such characters did in Italian-American sitcoms of the last century.
And the music? Removed from that era, Valli's adenoidal falsetto evokes a giggle on first hearing. Try to listen to "Sherry," the group's screeching first hit, without laughing. But his range was always impressive, as was their longevity - 29 Top 40 hits spanning three decades.
The musical mixes up the songs' order and exposes the tunes' limitations. "My Eyes Adored You," with the creepy line "though I never laid a hand on you," gets turned into a lullaby Frankie sings to his little girl. And becomes even creepier when it does.
"Jersey Boys" is such a poor reflection of Eastwood's best work that just when you think, "At least the musician in him does justice to the songs," there's a botched horn arrangement in "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You." Just when you think, "Well, there's a big ensemble dance number coming, and he cast Christopher Walken," he misses getting the famed dance man in the shot.
Stars: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Renee Marino, Christopher Walken, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda
Director: Clint Eastwood
Running time: 137 minutes
Rated: R for language throughout