Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Still Crazy

By Marc Savlov

FEBRUARY 1, 1999: 

D: Brian Gibson; with Stephen Rea, Billy Connolly, Jimmy Nail, Timothy Spall, Bill Nighy, Juliet Aubrey, Rachael Stirling, Hans Matheson, Helena Bergström. (R, 95 min.)

This ponderous, sporadically amusing take on the old "where are they now?" formula as it applies to aging British rock & rollers is so thematically muddled that it loses steam halfway through. What begins promisingly enough in the mode of This is Spinal Tap (and to a lesser degree, the too-often overlooked Bad News from The Young Ones crew) tosses the gags overboard midway through in favor of bland sentimentalities and pious middle-aged-male histrionics. The result is a deadly dull mishmash that never quite lives up to the wicked comic energy of the film's first half. Written by the team behind Alan Parker's The Commitments, and directed by the man who brought us a giddily frightening Hazel O'Connor in the seminal punk free-for-all Breaking Glass, the film follows the 20-years-on reunion gig (and the subsequent Euro-tour) of Brit rock dinosaurs Strange Fruit. Rea is Tony, the band's keyboard player, who decides one night to round up his old mates and Rock Once Again to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band's demise at the Wisbech Festival. This despite the fact that he's got it all in the bag as a men's room condom distributor in Ibiza, no less. Reconnecting with his former partners proves easy enough at first. There's bass-player Les (Nail), currently running a booming roof repair service up north, hippified drummer Beano (Spall) who grows flowers at his mum's house, and ruinous, skeletal frontman Ray (Nighy), who has been biding his time hanging out with his shrewish, Swedish lover Astrid (Bergström) at their manse in the country. Also along for the reunion tour is roadie Hughey (Connolly), who also wraps his thick burr around narration duties, and the band's longtime "assistant" Karen (Aubrey). The only thing missing, it seems, is Strange Fruit's lead guitarist Brian, who may or may not be D.O.A. Obviously in need of some fresh green, the quartet latch onto a wirey, Damon Albarn-ish guitarist (Matheson) and take their show on the road. As expected, their first few gigs are riotously bad (though never as bad as the Tap's -- but then, whose are?), though it soon becomes apparent that things are looking up when crowds actually show up and start singing the words back to these astonished Special K rock gods. Says Les, "We know what we're doing -- we've been Fruits a long time." Musically, the group echoes everything from late-Seventies Whitesnake and Rainbow with occasional forays into Hawkwind's spacey bag of trips. The problem with Still Crazy isn't that it's overly earnest (which it is) or that it's too easy to make fun of (minimum effort required), it's that cast and crew alike seem primed for comedy in the film's first half, and then abruptly depart those Nigel Tufnel-ed plains in favor of some serious soul-searching halfway in. That comedic spark dies when a pill-popping Ray almost drowns beneath a frozen Belgian canal and begins to get all spiritual on us. Ouch! It's enough to make you want to blow up the drummer.
1.5 stars


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