Paramount // 2001 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees (Retired) // May 6th, 2005
More twisted rock 'n' roll fantasies that will blow your mind.
Strange Frequency 2 will probably blow neither your mind nor your speakers, but it will blow 80 minutes painlessly. An anthology program that amps up the Twilight Zone template with a rock beat, it's composed of four stories in which irony, fate, the supernatural, and rock 'n' roll all play a part. Each story has a brief introduction by Roger Daltrey of The Who.
The curious thing is that this VH1-produced program tends to dwell on the dark side of the music world -- the exploitation of groupies, the emotional and physical drain of the lifestyle, the prevalence of addiction. Since its emphasis on music and the frequent electric guitar sequences aim it right at the music-loving crowd, it's downright perverse to showcase the seamy underbelly of rock 'n' roll instead of the cool parts. And there aren't many surprises here for anyone who's seen a few Twilight Zone or Night Gallery episodes, or even their '80s descendants, Tales from the Darkside and the short-lived but atmospheric Darkroom. In fact, there'll be even fewer surprises if you read the spoiler-laden cover blurbs, so take my advice and avoid them.
Like the writing, the acting tends to be serviceable rather than impressive, but there are some treats to be gleaned here. Even though he's not featured on the cover copy, which is a shocking oversight, James Marsters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer turns in a solid performance that contrasts refreshingly with his indelible portrayal of the vampire Spike. In the same sequence, however, Roger Daltrey gets far too much screen time; did no one learn from seeing him in Vampirella? Since he's never allowed to do any actual singing, it's a shame the show's creators didn't bring on an actual actor, or at least a rock star who's shown some acting ability. I suppose Sting was busy saving the world again, though, and Prince may still be nursing his wounds over the failure of his post-Purple Rain acting career.
Here are breakdowns of the four component stories.
* Soul Man
Soft-spoken guitar tuner and roadie Mitch (James Marsters) longs to be a guitar player and to have some of the perks of the obnoxious guitar idol he works for, like his pretty, neglected girlfriend. But his luck doesn't turn until he finds a curiosity at a junk shop -- sheet music for what is supposedly Jimi Hendrix's last song. Although the aging beatnik who runs the shop warns him that playing the music will summon up the devil, Mitch buys it anyway. When he plays it, he suddenly finds his fortunes improving, thanks in part to the efforts of a new manager, sleek Simon Rathbone (Daltrey). But -- surprise, surprise -- it isn't all roses from here on out.
Marsters is convincing as self-effacing Mitch, proving that he's not just a
one-trick vampire -- uh, pony. Thanks to his real-life sideline in a band, he
makes the guitar sequences look believable too. The rest of the cast is adequate
at best, and that definitely includes Daltrey. He does have a cool line, though:
"Rome wasn't burnt in a day." Also cool is the creepy opening
sequence, a flashback to 1970 in which Hendrix, alone in his hotel room,
improvises so passionately on his guitar that his fingers bleed -- and as the
blood drips onto paper, it forms the notes he's playing. Nice shivers there,
even though the rest of the episode doesn't live up to this start.
* Cold Turkey
Singer, songwriter, and recovering addict Jared (John Hawkes, The Perfect Storm) is trying to get his act together before his band starts a new tour, but he's finding it hard to write new songs without chemical assistance. Enter an alluring blonde (Patsy Kensit, Hell's Gate), who leads him back to the bottle and into trouble even as she helps him find inspiration again. But who is she, really? (Don't read the cover blurb, or you'll find out way too soon.)
This episode centers on a pretty decent concept, but it's played out with
few surprises and little suspense. Hawkes has a weathered look of smothered
desperation that lends credibility to his role, and Kensit starts out strong,
although her performance gets a bit shrill when the script robs her character of
her initial confidence. The ending offers a nice little twist -- but did Daltrey
really have to insult our intelligence by explaining it to us?
* Instant Karma
Innocent Lara (Lindsay Sloane, Bring It On) idolizes bad-boy rock star Vince Brava (Jason Gedrick, Murder One) and is convinced that they are soul mates. When she's tapped to join other groupies on his tour bus after a concert, she's delighted at the chance to show Vince how much they have in common. After Vince takes advantage of her innocence, however, she's determined to get revenge...but when she and Vince swap bodies, her vengeance is far more appropriate even than she had planned.
This episode finally starts to approach the degree of nifty irony perfected
by The Twilight Zone. Although the two leads are a bit broad in their
performances, the writing makes this one of the more interesting sequences. This
is seriously cynical stuff for rock fans, but thumbs up for confronting a
* Don't Stop Believin'
Senatorial candidate Ben Stanton (Peter Strauss, Spacehunter) is on the brink of losing the election, to the disgust of his ambitious wife (Wendie Malick, Dream On). Ever since he was involved in a car accident in which his young mistress was killed, he's been trailing in the polls. But listening to the CD she made him of his campaign song suddenly takes him back to the moments before the accident. Maybe this time he can change the course of events.
The last sequence of Strange Frequency 2 is the strongest, but also
the one with the flimsiest connection to the world of rock 'n' roll. There are
genuine surprises here, and the ending is worthy of Rod Serling himself. The
acting level also goes up, perhaps due to the greater experience of Strauss and
Malick in contrast to the young actors in other sequences. Too bad all the
stories aren't this good.
Although the program is designed to run as one piece from start to finish, patient viewers can figure out from the episode titles how to locate a specific story from the scene selection menu. It would have been nice if the disc had been designed to allow easier access to the individual stories, but hey, it would also have been nice to have some extras, and we get the shaft there. Audiovisual quality is decent enough, but the audio is surprisingly unimpressive for a program that features music so prominently. Music comes through with bright enough highs, but very little bass or breadth, so it doesn't have the enveloping quality that one might wish for. On occasion its relative volume is too high for the dialogue, but after the first segment this isn't much of a problem. Video quality is clean, with good black tones, but nothing particularly exciting.
Despite the R rating (for drug use), this is not edgy fare, and from time to time there is a whiff of cheese about the proceedings (often when Daltrey is on screen). It's also not going to supplant its television predecessors in pop culture status. But for viewers who are curious to see what new changes can be rung on this anthology format, it's not a bad way to while away an evening...just don't pass up a concert to stay home and watch it.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R