Whatever charms turned the musical “Jersey Boys” into a Tony-winning Broadway hit are sorely missed in Clint Eastwood’s tone-deaf corpse of a movie. Late to the game, blandly cast and scripted with every Italian-American cliche, it is Eastwood’s worst film as a director.
And it does Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons no great favors either, overselling their cultural significance, rendering their story in broad, tried and trite strikes.
“Jersey Boys” follows little Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young), son of a New Jersey barber, from his teens, training to follow in dad’s footsteps. But all the Italian Americans in Belleville see bigger things for Frankie — whose voice could make him “bigger than Sinatra.”
If only he can get a break. If only he can stay out of trouble with his musician pal, Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), a “two-bit hustler” who does break-ins and “it fell off a truck” thefts between gigs.
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Frankie is the gang’s lookout, signaling that the cops are coming by screeching “Silhouettes,” the doo-wop hit by The Rays. Because this happens in 1951 and the song didn’t come out until 1957, Frankie was plainly ahead of his time. Or Eastwood has turned careless with the details.
The story arc — struggles to get a record deal, inspiration in the studio, breaking out on radio, then money troubles, internal strife, tragedy, etc. — is so over-familiar that it lacks a single surprise.
Members of the group turn to the camera and narrate their story — Tommy, Frankie, Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). Characters talk with their hands and slip from English to Italian the way such characters did in Italian-American sitcoms of the past century.
The musical mixes up the songs’ order and exposes the tunes’ limitations. “My Eyes Adored You,” with the creepy line “though I never laid a hand on you,” gets turned into a lullaby Frankie sings to his little girl.
The Eastwood film exposes the play’s antecedents. It is structured like “Mamma Mia!” with hints of their most famous and recent hit, “December 1963 (Oh What a Night),” book-ending the plot.
So the guy who directed “Bird” has made the worst screen musical since “Rock of Ages.”