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Review: 'Commitments' creators tune up winning 'Still Crazy'

Web posted on:
Thursday, January 21, 1999 3:54:37 PM EST

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- Raging egos, bad fashion, and ear splitting guitar riffs are all in plentiful supply in the rock comedy "Still Crazy." The 1960s and '70s are known as the era of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, and it's been said that if you can remember that period you weren't really there. Well, if memory serves, "Still Crazy" captures that place in time to perfection and then flashes forward to present day with delightful results in this totally hilarious film.

As the film goes, in 1978, at the top of their form, a fictional British rock band called Strange Fruit self-destructed under the pressures of fame. The boys went their various ways, but never recaptured anything even close to the success they had enjoyed together.

Clips from "Still Crazy"

"The Tour Bus"
2Mb QuickTime movie

"Hello Belgium"
1.8Mb QuickTime movie

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Now, 20 years later, the guys decide to mount a golden oldies tour in hopes of reclaiming their former glory, not to mention some of their former fortunes. But will the same old pressures, back-biting and bad history destroy them before they can even get back on stage?

The script for "Still Crazy" is an ode to '70s rock 'n' roll, and writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais have crafted an excellent screenplay that truly takes you behind the scenes, then and now, while creating such a remarkable reality that you may begin to think these guys are the real thing.

No strangers to music movies

This is not Clement and La Frenais' first foray into the world of music. In 1991 this writing team also created (along with Roddy Doyle) another film about a '60s band, "The Commitments," which was also dead-on in its portrayal of a group of musicians trying to beat the odds.

Director Brian Gibson is also no stranger to bringing music to the screen. He helmed Tina Turner's 1993 biopic "What's Love Got To Do With It" which garnered Angela Bassett an Oscar nomination as Best Actress. His direction of the huge stadium concerts scenes in "Still Crazy" reek with reality.

With an excellent script in place, the brilliance of this film finally comes down to two things: casting and music. Stephen Rea's droll delivery, as the only band member who really believes the reunion can actually work, is perfect.

Billy Connolly, the best thing to come out of Scotland since scotch whiskey, plays Hughie, the band's faithful roadie and keeper of all the band's secrets. He's best known to movie goers from his role last year in "Mrs. Brown" opposite Dame Judi Dench. Here, he provides the biting narration throughout the film.

Jimmy Nail is unknown to American audiences, but his portrayal as Les, the cynical bass guitarist who hates the lead singer Ray, provides much of the tension so vital to the plot.

Then there is Ray. Played by accomplished British stage actor Bill Nighy, Ray is the lead singer and the one band member still emotionally trapped in the '70s. Nighy has the aforementioned sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll carved into his facial features (can you say Keith Richards) and his performance is stunning -- you'll find yourself wondering just which '70s band he was really in. He's responsible for much of the film's humor and pathos. You'll find yourself rooting for him to succeed, along with the others, despite his inflated and ultimately frail ego.

Timothy Spall, as the drummer Beano, Karen Knowles as the band's long-suffering personal assistant, and Hans Matheson as a young guitarist brought in to give the band some youth appeal, round out this exceptional cast.

Real musicians lend authentic touch

Acting aside, the music is worth noting -- what wonderfully bombastic '70s music it is. Both Jimmy Nail and Bill Nighy actually sing in this film, which gives the music scenes real authority and grounds the movie in reality.

There is also a very good reason why these original songs sound so authentic. Most of the music was written by Mick Jones, formerly of the band Foreigner, while Chris Difford, from the group Squeeze, wrote the lyrics. To add even more authenticity, Gary Kemp, formerly of Spandau Ballet, coached the actors in rock 'n' roll attitude.

"Still Crazy" opened for one week during December in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for this year's Academy Awards. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much Oscar buzz yet for this hilarious comedy, but you never know with the Academy. The film has received two Golden Globe nominations, one for Best Picture Comedy and the other for Best Song, for "The Flame Still Burns."

The studio is also putting out a soundtrack from the film. The ending is fairly predictable, but I still got chills when the band broke into its final song in this heartwarming and exceptional film.

"Still Crazy" opens in limited release on Friday, January 22 and is rated R, mainly for adult theme and language.

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