Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Critical Frog: Sgt. Pepper`s Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Movie)

While it may seem out of person, I occasionally listen to music OTHER than darker songs (sorry, Voltaire), specifically the work of the popular Beatles. The band mates worked extremely well together during concerts and album recordings, and created some of my favorite songs, such as "Hey Bulldog", "Revolution" and "Here Comes The Sun" (for shame).. So when my father (over at writingwithscissors.blogspot.com) told me there was a movie based on one of my favorite albums of all time, "Sargent Pepper`s Lonely Hearts Club Band", and that it was terrible, I knew what I had to do.

I`ll be honest: this is NOT the worst movie I`ve ever seen. But it comes close: the somewhat bland characters, unresolved plot points, and random song numbers contribute to this movie`s downfall, but it the ending that drives it over the cliff. This is BY FAR one of the DUMBEST endings I`ve ever seen in any movie ever. But let`s move to the backstory:

The movie is about Sgt. Pepper`s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 4 guys with odd hair, as they climb the charts of the record industry and try to save their hometown from real estate marketing via the hands of Mean Mr. Mustard (from the Beatles song of the same name) with guest appearances by Alice Cooper, the band Earth Wind And Fire, Billy Preston, Aerosmith and Steve Martin set to their own versions of Beatles music . If it seems like a bad setup now, just wait. 

For starters, the band isn`t played by the Beatles. Let`s just get that out of the way. This movie came out 4 years after the band broke up, and stars the Bee Gees (really) as the aforementioned band, with Peter Frampton as lead singer Billy Shears. We get a story behind the original Sgt. Pepper and his patriotic band playing during wars, told to us by the mayor of Heartland (the hometown of the band), Mr. Kite, again from the Beatles song. Sgt. P was so popular in the town that they established a golden weather vane designed to look like him (this seems insignificant, but wait for the ending). The original Sgt. Pepper was given a medal for service to the country, and upon his death, it is given to his grandson, Billy Shears (much to the dislike of his OTHER grandson Dougie), who then continues to carry on the legacy of his granddad by forming his own version of the band. The new Sgt. Pepper`s Lonely Hearts Club Band sings the Beatles song of the same name (Sgt. Pepper`s/With A Little Help From My Friends) somewhat well, and then we delve into the plot: the 4 bandmates (and Dougie Shears, now the band`s manager) get a record deal and are invited to go to the record company to make it. They depart, but not before Billy says goodbye to his girlfriend Strawberry Fields (how subtle. What song is she going to sing, "I Am The Walrus"?). The group leaves on a balloon (which randomly stops in a field so the band can go board a jet plane instead). The group arrives at the recording station and is immediately hit on by a group of women to the tune of "I Want You/She`s So Heavy" that goes on for an uncomfortably long 10 minutes. Wow, guys, it was hard enough for me to listen to that song in the first place, and you somehow made it a bit worse. (NOTE: I do not hate the Bee Gees or the Beatles. I just don`t like the song.)

The group, seduced by wine and women, agree to the record company`s contract (primarily due to the demands of Dougie and his apparent money obsession) and go on tour. They play "Good Morning, Good Morning" and have many montages of them playing and relaxing. But we also see Strawberry sad because Billy has kissed other people, including some lady named Lucy, who sings "Lucy In The Sky", appropriately enough. 

Meanwhile, we see the evil real estate agent (not that real estate agents aren`t evil already) Mean Mr. Mustard hanging out in his van with two robot women. 
 He is suddenly contacted by a mysterious voice in his computer that commands him to steal Sgt. Pepper`s instruments from the Heartland town hall, which are apparently magic instruments that bring happiness to the town. He takes the instruments to various locations of danger: the trumpet to Dr. Maxwell`s clinic (hmm, I wonder what song we will hear there?), the Tuba to Father Sun`s temple, keeps the drum for himself, and takes the saxophone to the record studio (where the computer says he is waiting) all to a techno remix of the "Mean Mr. Mustard" song. I`ll admit, the song isn`t too bad, but the random plot seems to be just an opportunity to squeeze a lot of music in with no character development whatsoever.

With the town`s happiness gone, Mr. M proceeds to build all over it. Strawberry escapes and goes to tell the Lonely Hearts about the dastardly deed, but not before dragging them out of a recording session to tell them and kissing Billy before she does. The gang hijacks Mr. Mustard`s van somehow and sets off on the grand adventure to reclaim the lost instruments and save their hometown.

The band starts their odyssey at the clinic of Dr. Maxwell, played by Steve Martin. Mr. Kite the narrator (yeah, he`s still in this) explains that he has the power to completely turn old and ugly people into young and beautiful ones,ue to his magical silver hammer (It`s never explained how he can tap them with the hammer and turn them young, so I`m using the `magic` card). Of course, we get the obvious song number: "Maxwell`s Silver Hammer" sung by Steve Martin. In all honesty, this is probably my favorite part of the movie: the odd medical setting combines the hammer imagery with the song, and combined with the erratic singing style of Steve Martin playing a crazy doctor, it turns out to be a hilariously enjoyable scene. The group attempts to swipe the trumpet but get into a fight with Maxwell and his 3 nurses. The supporting bandmates get beat up pretty easily, but Billy and Maxwell fight longer than the others: Maxwell pins Billy down and tried to hit him with his Silver Hammer (really, all that would do is turn him younger and better-looking, though, so why worry?), but Billy fights him off and the 4 escape with the trumpet. How did the other 3 escape the nurses? You will never know.

The group discovers the drum hiding in Mr. Mustard`s van and proceeds to the temple of Father Sun, who is played by Alice Cooper of all people. Mr. Kite tells us that Father sun is brainwashing people that Dr. Maxwell makes young because they want to take over the world with a mind-controlled army of people in scout uniforms with absolutely no weapons whatsoever. Aparrently to do that the subjects must watch a video of Alice Cooper singing "Because", primarily due to the fact that watching enough Alice Cooper singing bad songs would make anyone hungry for war. The band attacks Father Sun and reclaims the tuba, but Billy loses a battle with a circut box and is shocked into a coma. Back at the van, Strawberry revives him by singing "Strawberry Fields Forever" (of course), and the group decides to go head back to the record company.

Back at the record company, Dougie tells the manager that he has an idea to raise money. If the manager will sponsor a music festival there, it will rake in the cash AND save Heartland from real estate. Dougie gets the group and they all head back to Heartland for the grand finale. 

So by now, you probably notice something off about the story: THEY FORGOT AN INSTRUMENT. What about the saxophone, guys? What about the mysterious computer voice? Aparrently we don`t get to resolve that plot point because they wanted even more music.

Saxophone aside, we see the group watching Earth, Wind and Fire (a band) perform a Beatles song (a decent one at that) while Strawberry hangs around by the popcorn machine. Meanwhile, Dougie and Lucy from before make out on a bed and then steal all the money from ticket sales. Mr. Mustard then captures Strawberry, Dougie and Lucy and takes them to Dr. Maxwell and Father Sun, where the 3 will be brainwashed into more servants for the evil army.

The Lonely Hearts catch up to the bad guys, who have tied the 3 captives up and are preparing their master plan: to brainwash everyone with (you guessed it) a Beatles song. This time it`s "Come Together" (how is that evil again?)  played by the evil band.... Aerosmith. No joking. The deadly band meant to mind control everybody in the world is played by a band that at one point DID rule the music industry. The group (all in Boy Scouts uniforms ) comes dangerously close to hypnotizing the captives, but the band shows up and beats the tar out of Aerosmith. Sgt. Pepper's Band stops the evil plot, but Strawberry is somehow killed in the process. 

The group returns home, having lost a friend but won a battle, and hold a funeral for Strawberry Fields to the tune of (appropriately enough) "Carry That Weight".  The group returns to her house, now torn down by eat estate, and mourns her death. Billy feels terrible and considers committing suicide. He stands on the roof of the house and begins to throw himself off, but just as he does, the Sgt. Pepper weather vane on the town hall spins rapidly, moving as if it was possessed, and suddenly......

THE FREAKING THING COMES TO LIFE AND MAKES EVERYTHING OK. Played by Billy Prescott, the vane uses some kind of Weather Vane Magic to stop Billy from killing himself, save Heartland from real estate, brings Strawberry back to life, and even turns Mr. Mustard into THE FREAKING POPE. Suddenly everything is OK: the town is happy, Strawberry is alive, the bad guy is the Pope, the works. This is definitely one of the dumbest endings I`ve ever seen: how did the weather vane come to life? How does it possess magic powers? Did he somehow change Mr. M`s attitude into something more...Pope-like? How did he bring Strawberry back to life? And what about the missing instrument and the mysterious computer? We aren`t getting an answer for any of this, so let`s just hear the closing credits, in which a lot of celebrities and the stars arrange themselves into the famous image from the cover of Sgt. Pepper`s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

This movie is bad. Definitely bad. But it has some decent parts: when the songs and the singers line up perfectly with the scenes, It can work very well with the music in the background at times ("Carry That Weight" and the funeral scene go together well), and as I mentioned, I absolutely love the Steve Martin as Dr. Maxwell bit. But the movie suffers a LOT from the bland characters (only Billy has a defining characteristic, and that`s that he likes Strawberry), bad writing, unresolved plots (we never figure out what happens to the bad guys or Dougie), and of course, that downright retarded ending. It`s not the WORST movie I`ve ever seen, per se (bear in mind, I haven`t reviewed some of the terrible junk I`ve seen) , but it`s still really bad. 

It`s really bad. Songs are okay. Steve Martin rules. Crappy ending. Enough said.
Sgt. Pepper`s Lonely Hearts Club Band? More like Sgt. Pooper`s Crappy Ending Film.

(Note: I do NOT hate Sgt. Pepper`s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As mentioned in the review, I love the album. Same with the Beatles in general. It`s a bad movie is all.)

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