Judge Clark Douglas is forever fuchsia.
The hilarious record-breaking off-broadway musical!
It's always nice when a project you're not expecting much from manages to surpass those expectations. Such was the case with Forever Plaid: The Movie, a fairly simple presentation of the 1990 Off-Broadway musical. Built around quartet harmonizing and innocent songs of yesteryear ("Three Coins in a Fountain," "Heart and Soul," etc.), it sounds like the kind of innocent, toothless entertainment your old Aunt Martha (who plays bingo on Thursday nights at the senior center) might enjoy. To be honest, that's exactly the sort of thing it is, but it's also smarter, warmer and more entertaining than you might expect.
Our story: once upon a time, Forever Plaid was an up-and-coming barbershop quartet ("Guy groups were back in…The Beatles had paved the way for us!" they insist). Alas, one dark night they were run off the road by a bus filled with giddy Catholic schoolgirls. Decades later, Plaid members Jinx (Stan Chandler), Smudge (David Engel), Sparky (Larry Raben), and Francis (Daniel Reichard) have returned from the afterlife for one final chance at attaining the glory they were once so close to. So begins a night filled with songs, memories, songs, playful banter, and more songs.
Despite the gimmicky nature of the set-up, this is a pretty straightforward concert performance that doesn't spend too much time on story details or plot advancement. The actual musical performances are stellar, but it's the personality and chemistry between the guys (not to mention a playful sense of humor present throughout) which makes this something more than merely, "Four guys sing a bunch of old songs you know and love."
The music is quality stuff, but most of these songs have been performed by so many others that the Forever Plaid crew doesn't really stand a chance of turning in a definitive version of any of them. This is something they seem to recognize, as there's usually a greater emphasis on doing something amusing with each tune to prevent it from being nothing more than an adequate cover. For instance, "Cry" is performed by a particularly timid fellow who has stammered and mumbled his way through the show up to that point. As such, when he breaks out into Tom Jones-level belting during the final chorus, the crowd goes wild with delight.
Speaking of which, Forever Plaid: The Movie isn't so much a movie as the stage show captured on video. Despite an animated opening credits sequence and a couple of brief filmed montages breaking things up midway through, this looks and sounds like a concert film (as such, I'm not sure why "The Movie" was necessary; the fact that this is a DVD says all that needs to be said). Anyway, the audience's response to the show very much mirrored my own: polite applause early on slowly transforms into more enthusiastic reactions as we spend more and more time with these guys.
Things get particularly entertaining during the show's second half, when the group breaks away from the expected standards and starts goofing around. Among the highlights: a goofy cover of Tennessee Ernie Ford's "16 Tons" fused with an unexpected performance of "Chain Gang," an endearingly square cover of The Beatles' "She Loves You" ("She loves you, yessirree-bob!"), a bit of calypso-themed tomfoolery and an enjoyably frantic recreation of The Ed Sullivan Show (complete with spot-on Topo Gigio impressions and torch-swallowing). It's hardly groundbreaking material, but the execution is unquestionably endearing. It's easy to see why this show is still running around the world twenty years after its creation.
The only thing that really disappoints is the DVD transfer, which is pretty well below-par for a modern release. Detail is rather terrible throughout, as it looks more like a standard-def TV broadcast than a sturdy 480p transfer. Additionally, some of the more dimly-lit moments are murkier than they ought to be, preventing us from fully appreciating some of the props being employed in the background. Audio is a good deal better, as the musical numbers sound robust and dialogue is never less than crystal-clear. As a bonus feature, you receive a brief featurette on the show's transition from stage to screen.
Still, the weak transfer isn't enough of a liability to prevent me from recommending this charming little affair. Forever Plaid: The Movie is a most enjoyable way to pass 85 minutes, delivering everything you would expect and a little more.
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