We definitely start off on the right foot with a very eighties music video from a band called Eternity. The music is just that perfect mix of cheese and catchiness to be era appropriate. The people who wrote it have an obvious love for the genre and it shows. In fact, one of my pet peeves about movies that deal with musicians is that they always seem to get the music wrong. They show bands that are supposed to be at least somewhat successful playing this god-awful crap that nobody would even listen to, much less pay to hear.
So the credits play, and again we have a very eighties title sequence that looks like the worst and best album cover you’ve ever seen. Again, it’s perfect. This really puts you in the mood for a film that’s about two guys in Los Angeles who form an easy listening band during the heady period that was the mid to late eighties.
A few minutes in we see that the movie has a narration and, aw s**t… it’s one of those funny narrations. You know the kind. It’s where the narrator will say something like how he came to Hollywood to get noticed, and then the movie will show you how ironic his words are by having a guy yelling at him to park his car elsewhere.
HAHAHAHA!!! It’s funny, see??? Because he’s getting what he wants, he’s being noticed, but not in the way he wants to! Ho-ho… Ha-ha… Hrm…
A more successful joke is that the phone number for the apartment that our narrator, née Todd Lucas, ends up renting is 867-5309. If it makes me laugh, then it’s funny. Those are the rules. Then we see our humble narrator’s new job at fashion outlet BJ Maxx which, like the above Tommy Tutone reference, got a laugh out of me. Here we meet his boss played by Eric Roberts, who plays Mr. Weiner, the assistant manager for BJ Maxx’s. Yes, yes… weiners and BJs… Look, this isn’t sophisticated humor, but it is funny. Shut up.
Roberts has fun with his character. He’s not chewing the scenery, but he nibbles it a hell of a lot, which is the right attitude to have with the material. You can see he’s having fun, and in turn this makes us have fun watching him.
Our narrator, Todd Lucas, then meets another BJ employee, who is called BJ Fairchild – I’m a sensing a pattern in the naming scheme here – and they soon discover that they both have a passion for lamest genre of music known to man: 80’s R&B.
The thing is though, lame genre or not, the movie is actually pretty damn awesome when it sticks to the music. There’s a scene where Fairchild is performing in a bar and all he does is play saxophone covers of cop show theme songs. It’s a clever bit that’s genuinely hilarious. I actually found myself trying to ignore the characters talking in the foreground in order to pay attention to the soundtrack.
As a comedy, this is… um, well… not as good as it could be. There is a joke about twenty-three minutes in that I feel embodies the film’s mistaken attempts at humor. Bear with me for a minute, because I have to set things up here. It’s a doozy.
Todd Lucas’ neighbor, Gina Marie, has just told our fledgling R&B duo that she got them an audition with someone who could help their career and asks if they have anything that the person can hear. Well, it just so happens that our narrator has written lyrics the night before, so he turns to BJ Fairchild and says “BJ? Do you think you can jam some licks over these lyrics?”
“Could I???” BJ Fairchild says. “I’d have to be a sad orphan child not to!”
Lucas stares at him horrified. “BJ…” He says. “Gina is an orphan, okay? You have to watch what you say. Just be careful not to remind her of the pain she has to live with every day for the rest of her life, all right?”
Gina Marie looks comically downcast.
That’s it. That was the joke. I wish I was f*****g kidding or exaggerating, but God help us all THAT WAS THE JOKE!!! It actually goes on after that, and I just don’t have the heart to write it down. All that’s missing is a laugh track and this could have been right out of Full House. In fact, if anything it probably would have improved the joke.
The problem here is that comedy requires confidence and conviction and timing. You can’t hesitate when you tell a joke. If you betray any kind of timidity or insecurity, it’s like death. Here, most of our main cast sounds as if they’re giving elocution lessons, like the director is terrified that the audience might miss a line if they talk too naturally. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the scene where BJ Fairchild and the narrator go out to a club and try to pick up two British chicks, and the women’s acting is so above and beyond anything we’ve seen until now that you almost feel like they walked in from a different movie. They’re not even saying anything all that funny, but you still laugh because they’re completely at ease and having fun.
I’d go as far as to say that this is one of the best scenes in the whole film. It combines good acting, clever music, and striking visuals. If the rest of the movie was as well done as this I would have written a very different review. One that I really wish I could have written instead of this one. Because I really don’t like panning a film, especially one that someone obviously put their heart into.
What’s especially frustrating is that I want to like this movie, I really do, because I know what the filmmakers were going for and it’s a type of comedy that I usually enjoy. The film is written with this “Farrelly Brothers” vibe to it, so every scene plays like a clever setup for some crazy improvisation, but since most of the cast never get to improvise it comes off as more of a funny premise for a movie than a funny movie. Take for example that failed “orphan” joke I mentioned earlier. Now imagine Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels and Lauren Holly doing the exact same scene as their Dumb and Dumber characters. See how much better it suddenly plays?
If I was to take a guess as to what happened, I’d say that the filmmakers were just too pressed for time to allow any kind of improvisation. Low budget indie movies tend to be murder for spontaneity because there’s just no money to afford the luxury of multiple takes. Actors tend to stick to the script when the director is standing off to the side of the camera constantly tapping his watch and making “let’s wrap this up” movements with his finger. You can’t even blame the director either, because he has the producers nagging him about how he has only thirty more minutes of location time and then they have to be out of there or pay extra. Nor can you blame the producers, because they have the investors up their a*s whining about costs.
So I’m not blaming anyone for this film’s flaws, least of all the actors, who I think would have been fine if they’d had more time to work with the material. I think that what happened is that by the time anyone realized that they had bitten off more than they could chew it was too late to go back. The acting, for all my bitching, is serviceable. True, it’s bit inexperienced and awkward at times, but that’s not a huge sin in the realm of low budget indie films. The main cast is still quite affable and attractive, and they do improve as the film goes on. The guest stars: Eric Roberts (Runaway Train, Pope of Greenwich Village), Jon Gries (Real Genius, The Monster Squad) and Martin Kove (The Karate Kid, Rambo: First Blood Part 2), are all loads of fun to watch, especially Gries who is awesome as a smarmy record executive.
So, there’s actually a lot to like if you bother to stick through it the whole way. The music is of particular note. ALL the songs are good. I mean, really good. It’s like how Spinal Tap parodied heavy metal, but actually made some pretty decent metal songs as well. The same is true here. If songs by “Eternity” played on the radio you wouldn’t automatically change the channel.
Yes, the first act is iffy, but it does perk up by the second act, and then uses that momentum to stumble across the finish line in the third act. This doesn’t sound like huge praise, but I think this movie had a lot of potential to be hilarious and with a little sympathy for the material you can still see the original intent of the filmmakers. In fact, and I don’t often say this, but with a bigger budget you’d probably have a really good comedy here. All the elements are there, it’s just that there wasn’t enough time and money to realize any of them properly.
Eternity will play for a limited run in theatres starting in New York, and while I can’t quite give the movie a pass, I can very much praise the soundtrack. It’s for sale on iTunes and listed on their website and if you love eighties music as much as I do you’ll at least want to consider buying a copy. If you want to support the film itself – and I’m guessing that if you read Film Threat you must have at least a little bit of affection for non-mainstream fare – then by all means go see it. I won’t be the best thing you’ll ever watch, but any movie that has a line like “We should be afraid of Ninjas, not women.” deserves some mention in the realm of cinema.