Judge Patrick Bromley's Whiskey-a-Go-Go got up and went-went while he watched this pallid, derivative Hollywood rock flick.
The ultimate address for a dream.
Sunset Strip is a bit like Frankenstein's monster—it's cobbled together completely from the used parts of other movies. If you've seen Almost Famous, you know everything the movie has to say about music. If you've seen Boogie Nights or 54, you know everything the movie has to say about the '70s. If you've seen just about any teen-film romance (or, for that matter, any episode of Saved by the Bell) you know everything the movie has to say about relationships. What's left for the movie to say? Better yet, what's left for me to say?
Facts of the Case
Sunset Strip tells the story of a number of music industry wannabes, has-beens, and actually-ares, all in the span of 24 hours on the—you guessed it—Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California. There's Michael (Simon Baker, L.A. Confidential, The Guardian), the rock photographer who secretly pines for Tammy (Anna Friel, Timeline), the rock costumer. She, meanwhile, is busy sleeping with the Allmanesque Glen (Jared Leto, My So-Called Life, Panic Room) and the Jaggeresque Duncan (everybody's favorite scar-faced Scotsman, Tommy Flanagan, Braveheart, The Saint)—sometimes in the same 15-minute span. Elsewhere on the Strip is Zach (Nick Stahl, Eye of God, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), the soulful musician looking to break it big at the legendary Whiskey a-Go-Go; Felix (Rory Cochrane, Dazed and Confused, Empire Records), the jaded songwriter on a suicidal drinking binge; and Marty Shapiro (Adam Goldberg, Saving Private Ryan, The Salton Sea), the would-be agent and promoter with an angle for everyone.
Sunset Strip is yet another multi-character, multi-storyline "day/night in the life" mosaic a la American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused, or Empire Records. Graffiti and Dazed, however, actually said something about their respective generations and period in history—Sunset Strip doesn't.
So what about Empire Records? Well, I compare it to Sunset Strip for a few reasons—the cast is equally talented and equally wasted, the films are equally shallow emotionally, and (along with Dazed and Confused) both Empire Records and Sunset Strip give us Rory Cochrane as his trademark stoner/stoic standing outside of the action and hurling down wisdom to the other characters. He's a talented actor—it's a shame we can't see him do something even remotely different. While we're on typecasting (and Dazed and Confused, for that matter), Sunset Strip steals another actor from Linklater's ensemble—Adam Goldberg—and has him doing the exact same shtick, only this time with a terrible Afro wig. He's a talented actor—it's a shame we can't see him do something even remotely different.
Sense a pattern?
The entire cast of Sunset Strip ranges from good to uneven. The film assembles a group of actors typically relegated to the sidelines and (supposedly) puts them at the forefront of the action, though it uses so many characters and plots that not everyone gets enough screen time. Nick Stahl fares the best, which shouldn't come as a surprise—he's proven time and again that he's one of the best young actors working today. Here, he rounds out his almost laughably underwritten storyline with just his facial expressions and body language—even without dialogue, we understand this guy. Anna Friel, on the other hand, is bad and boring—not to mention unconvincing as an American—as the movie's "love interest" (her romantic counterpart, Simon Baker, is equally bland). It may be the part she was given, or it may be that she's out of her league; it doesn't bode well that she's totally outshone by the far more talented Mary Lynn Rajskub (Mr. Show, Punch-Drunk Love) and Judy Greer (Kissing a Fool, The Specials) in a two-scene waitress role.
The "Where Are They Now?" montage that ends the film is awful, abrupt, and totally out of sync with the rest of the movie (perhaps yet another example of cribbing from a better music movie: That Thing You Do!). We haven't invested enough in any of the characters (save for Nick Stahl) to really care what becomes of them, and then the film screws up even further by botching the montage itself—it either updates us on characters we saw for literally one scene or turns a character's fate into a punchline. None of this, however, compares to the utterly arbitrary killing-off of one of the film's principal characters; it doesn't generate any sympathy whatsoever, so I can't quite figure out its purpose. Is it meant to be funny? Poignant? Ironic? The movie doesn't seem to know.
Because it's a "rock" movie, there's a lot of music to be found in Sunset Strip. The source music used throughout is good; though light on hits, the few unearthed gems utilized are more likely what was being played on the radio in 1972. The original music is excellent, too (especially the song from Nick Stahl's band, Naked Snake…why are they booing again?), but has no place in the 1970s. Naked Snake sounds a lot like Weezer (it's actually Australian pop/punk band Ash), and Duncan's band, the Curb, has more in common with contemporary Brit-pop like Radiohead or the Verve than anything from that era. Like I said, I really liked the music—it's just all wrong.
Fox's disc of the film is nothing to get excited about. It's presented in two formats: a full screen image on one side of the disc, and a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer on the second. The picture is only okay—colors are bright, but it's hazy overall and detail isn't as sharp as it could be. For a rock film, the 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track is a disappointment—most of the action takes place in the front channels, with the rear speakers hardly getting any use even during the concert sequences. The only extras on the disc are some bonus trailers.
Sunset Strip is too inconsistent to work; at times feeling intensely personal and other times feeling slapped together. I can't recommend the film—it's too much an amalgam of other, better movies and has nothing new to offer. A good cast and some good music pretty much go to waste.
Nick Stahl is found not guilty by the Court, and should continue to lead the post-apocalyptic battle against the evil Cyberdine Systems. Director Adam Collis and screenwriter Randall Jahnson, on the other hand, are asked to surrender their Blockbuster Video membership cards so that they might come up with some original ideas. Everyone else had better Whiskey a-Go-Go home.
Court is adjourned.
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