Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Video review: "The Runaways"

There's a great scene in "The Runaways" that captures the essence of the 1970s girl rock band, and the movie about them.

Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and the rest of the recently assembled group are practicing inside a rundown trailer on a steamy California afternoon. Their eccentric producer, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), thinks their performance isn't edgy enough. So he hires a bunch of local boys to pelt them with dog poo and garbage as they play.

Needless to say, the teen girls are soon pretty P.O.'d, and it shows in the anger they put into the music.

The Runaways were not a band of young women who came together to sing about rebellion, but a group assembled by a cynical, brilliant hitmaker who thought jailbait rockers could be the next big thing.

Briefly, they were.

The film, based on a memoir by lead singer Currie, focuses on her character and Jett almost to the exclusion of the other band members. The most compelling thing about it is the transformation of Currie from 15-year-old wallflower into a snarling sex siren of the stage.

Inevitably, the band becomes a sensation, starts doing progressively harder drugs, begins fighting among themselves, and we can practically start the countdown until their breakup.

There isn't a lot of soul here, but writer/director Floria Sigismondi keeps things moving along at an upbeat tempo, and the energy of old songs like "Cherry Bomb" still boasts plenty of spark.

Despite a boatload of clich├ęs, "The Runaways" rocks on.

The Blu-ray and DVD versions come with identical extras, highlighted by a feature-length commentary by Joan Jett (who executive produced the film), Stewart and Fanning.
I haven't yet heard it -- the studio couldn't ship a review copy in time -- but just the concept of matching up the rock legend with the actress playing her sounds amazing. Too bad they couldn't recruit Currie, too.

There are also featurettes about the making of the movie and the history of the band.

Movie: 3 stars out of four
Extras: 3 stars out of four

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