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Sunset Strip

Comedy 2000

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Released with even less fanfare than a WNBA playoff game, Sunset Strip, an affectionate look back at the heyday of '70s rock, has quietly slunk into release in New York and Los Angeles. And that's a shame. While the film isn't as tight as its bell-bottomed cast, it still has its funky charms. Heaven knows that 20th Century Fox has released worse movies with much more pomp and ceremony (The Beach, Anna and the King); in this case, the studio must simply have felt that Strip would be outshone by Cameron Crowe's similar Almost Famous. There's some logic to that — the latter film is infinitely better and better made — but Strip has a sweet, unhurried, Altman-esque quality. It also plays like a post-teenage Dazed and Confused — both films are set in the midst of the Me Decade, over the course of a single day.

As the seductive strains of David Essex's "Rock On" fill the theater, we're introduced to the film's main players and their loosely connected lives. There's Michael (Simon Baker, memorable as the closeted matinee idol in L.A. Confidential), a rock photographer who's secretly smitten with Tammy (Anna Friel, a real find), a slinky go-go girl costumer. Alas, Tammy's too busy juggling other men to notice, primarily dealing with the self-absorbed guitar gods she outfits: a hedonist savoring his 15 minutes (Jared Leto, covered in hippie hair) and an established Jimmy Page clone (Tommy Flanagan). A frazzled alcoholic songwriter (Rory Cochrane, channeling Jack Nicholson) keeps running into an ultra-sincere talent manager (Adam Goldberg, a visual hoot sporting a 'fro puff, tinted shades, and a coke spoon). Sunset Strip's beating heart, however, is Zach (Nick Stahl), a sweet-faced kid living hand-to-mouth in the canyons, dreaming of Jimi Hendrix-dom.

Director Adam Collis' debut is a bit shaky, to be sure: There's a cool cameo from '70s character actress Dori Brenner (Next Stop, Greenwich Village) and swinging style to spare. But much of the movie looks too dark and cramped to really exploit its groovy backdrops (the Whiskey a Go-Go, Hyatt House hotel, Canters on Fairfax) and fashions (courtesy of costume designer Ha Nguyen). Still, some of the blame's gotta go to the folks at Fox, who must have taken Collis' print away from him and cut it up. In particular, Cochrane and Goldberg's story line has been given the short shrift. And the film never, oddly enough, completely comes to life musically. Like Almost Famous, which had Peter Frampton and Heart's Nancy Wilson as soundtrack consultants, Sunset Strip boasts its own rock pedigree in original contributions from Robbie Robertson and Stewart Copeland. But the most propulsive soundtrack moments come from the occasional inclusion of such chestnuts as Rod Stewart's "Every Picture Tells a Story." This film should have been lined wall-to-wall with classic anthems.

Sunset Strip's episodic script, courtesy of experienced tripper Randall Jahnson (The Doors), is about as substantial as a whiff of patchouli. Yet it manages to be never less than likable, especially when the focus is on wistful, innocent Zach. The shy Stahl, all grown up from his long-ago role in Mel Gibson's The Man Without a Face, is puppy-dog adorable, and his jam sessions with a phantom collaborator in the canyons perfectly capture the dreams of the boulevard.

--Kevin Maynard

Rated R for sexuality, language, and drug content.

Cast and Credits

Adam Collis (Director)
Randall Jahnson (Screenwriter)
Simon Baker (Michael)
Anna Friel (Tammy)
Nick Stahl (Zach)
Rory Cochrane (Felix)
Adam Goldberg (Shapiro)
Jared Leto (Glen)
Tommy Flanagan (Duncan)



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