MICHAEL PARE    TOM BERENGER    ELLEN BARKIN    JOE PANTOLIANO
This 1983 mystery, written and directed by Martin Davidson, is worth viewing if only for a nostalgia trip back to the 1960's. Much more than that the film has a great plot that keeps you guessing right up until a minute before the ending credits roll.
Eddie Wilson (PARE)was the leader of an early sixties New Jersey rock 'n roll band who disappeared one night after the band finished recording an ahead-of-its-time opus. Like the Beach Boys' Pet Soundsand the Sgt. Pepper albumn, A Season in Hell was an innovative departure from their simplistic three-chord songs like Betty Lou's Got a New Pair of Shoes. Eddie allegedly drove off a pier. His car was dredged up from the water but no body was ever found.
On the anniversary of his death Maggie Foley (BARKIN) wants a story for Media Magazine with answers to questions like, "What happened that night in the recording studio?" and "Who has the Season in Hell tapes that were never released?"; and she thinks Eddie might still be alive. Wilson had been a fan of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud who let the world think he was dead. He turned up years later in a French hospital but had never written another word after completing his most famous book entitled A Season in Hell. The day after Eddie died, somebody checked the tapes out of the record company. One of the last things Eddie ever said was "if we can't be great there's no sense in ever playing music again."
The story of the Cruisers is relayed to Maggie in a series of flashbacks, mostly from the point of view of the first band member that Maggie contacts: Frank "Wordman" Ridgeway (BERENGER). Frank, now a high school teacher, had been the antithesis of leather-clad Eddie. The "preppie" from an Ivy League college who studied poetry, English lit and classical music was working cleanup in a bar where the band played. Eddie befriended him after he took Eddie's side in an argument with the bass player over how fast a song should be played. Frank turns him on to Rimbaud and classical music. Eddie teaches Frank to play rock 'n roll, and he joins the band as the keyboard player. He comes up with the lyrics for the band's first hit song, On The Dark Side, that gets them a recording contract.
"We need each other, wordman. We go together, you and me. Like words and music."
Sal Amato (MATTHEW LAURANCE), the bass player, wasn't so impressed with Frank. He resents Frank's influence on Eddie and smells trouble in a second albumn that's heavy metal Black Sabbath sounding when the record company is looking for more On the Dark Side.
"I want something great," Eddie insists, "something that no one's ever done before."
"But we ain't great. We're just some guys from Jersey!"
(Try telling that to Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi!)
After an initial reluctance to talk about his bittersweet past that included falling in love with Eddie's girlfriend, Frank's interest in knowing the truth is piqued by Maggie, and he contacts the other surviving band members. Kenny the drummer is now a blackjack dealer in Atlantic City; Sal the bass player is doing a revival show with an Eddie look-alike; and Joann, the backup singer and Eddie's girlfriend, is a choreographer for one of the casino shows. Doc Robbins (PANTOLIANO), who was the band's manager and deal-maker, is a radio dee-jay. They all have something in common: their homes have been ransacked. Obviously someone is looking for the lost tapes.
As good as Michael Pare looks in the performance scenes he is only lip-synching. The songs were written and sung by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown band. Two of the songs from the movie soundtrack--On the Dark Side and Wild Summer Nights were big radio hits in 1983; the soundtrack is worth buying.
Despite what other critics say the acting in this movie is just as great as the music. Berenger (who I feel could replace Harrison Ford in several roles) as always gives a stellar performance; so does Matthew Laurance. Though he's played supporting roles in more movies than I can count, you may know him best as Mel Silver on TV's Beverly Hills 90210. The best acting award belongs to Joe Pantoliano. I'll watch any movie that he's cast in, but the character of Doc really moved me--the guy who felt robbed of his chance to be rich and famous by Eddie's death and wants one more shot.
"I asked Eddie once why he kept you around," Joann admits, "He said Doc's a dreamer, and the world needs dreamers."
I couldn't agree more. I've been called a dreamer by people who know me well. And a dream that your favorite dead rock star just might still be alive somewhere is a dream I would like to come true.
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