Movie Review: Showbiz clichés make ‘Jersey Boys’ fizzle

"Jersey Boys," the movie

‘Jersey Boys’
★★ 1/2

Slick, professional, but emotionally uninvolving, Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of this long-running Broadway musical works hard to inject some dramatic weight into the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons despite a glut of showbiz clichés.

It doesn’t work, unfortunately, but at least we get a video jukebox of the group’s greatest hits. Even there, though, “Jersey Boys” mostly seems to be going through the motions.

Much is made of young Frankie (John Lloyd Young, a Tony-winner in the original Broadway production) and his friends growing up in a New Jersey neighborhood more likely to turn out gangsters than pop stars.

It looks for a while like it might go either way for Frankie, especially since his best friend Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), who formed the trio Frankie uplifts with his nasal falsetto, is an obnoxious wannabe gangster with a sideline in stolen goods. Then they meet straight-arrow songwriter/keyboardist Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), who had already written the 1958 “Short Shorts” and the Four Seasons success story began.

As is often the case in showbiz rise and fall stories, the way up in “Jersey Boys” is more energizing and entertaining than the way down, especially since the dramatic developments start to get a bit confusing on the downhill slide and Valli’s subsequent bounce-back in the ’70s.

It’s hard to feel a great deal of interest in any of it because the story seems to make a point of running through all the over-familiar tropes: infighting, clashing egos, money troubles, never-ending tours and ruined marriages. Even though Eastwood does his best to inject some gravitas into the proceedings.

And even though Christopher Walken adds a touch of class as a benevolent mafia don who takes an interest in Valli.

We never learn much about the real Frankie Valli, aside from a few snapshots of his loving mom and dad, his tumultuous marriage and his tragic relationship with a daughter (who becomes a late-breaking factor out of the blue). And despite each of them presenting his side of the group’s story, á la the stage play and á la “Rashomon,” we learn even less about the other Four Seasons.

Another director might have been able to take the built-in musical-theater staginess of “Jersey Boys” and turn it into an asset, along the lines of “Dreamgirls” or “Chicago.”

But Eastwood tries to keep it real, with mixed results. Even the group’s performances of “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “My Eyes Adored You” and many more, are staged proficiently, but with a minimum of excitement.

So it’s important to remember that this is the Four Seasons we’re talking about — great pop music, but not much in the way of orgiastic abandon. For that we’ll have to wait for James Brown and “Get on Up.”

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