John Schultz's "Bandwagon" is a sweet-natured and witty comedy about the knockabout adventures of a Raleigh, N.C., garage band. Consistently funny and warm-hearted, it has a broad, generation-crossing appeal rather than aiming only at the very people it depicts.
In his feature debut, Schultz has hit the right unpretentious throwaway tone and intimate scale for his story and, as a result, his picture ought to entertain a lot of people. It is too affectionate to be a satire in the way "This Is Spinal Tap" was, but when it exaggerates situations for laughs, it never loses its sense of proportion.
"Bandwagon" is a little gem in the way "The Full Monty" is and, like the British film, ought to be appreciated for the deft diversion it is and not be oversold.
Charlie Flagg (Matthew Hennessey) is a naive, long-haired motor-mouth forever spouting New Age nonsense. But he is an aspiring drummer and, since he is still living at home, he does have a garage. When a local hard-core band called Spittle is signed by the ultimate indie label Rival Records, Charlie becomes determined to start his own band. It takes lots of doing, much of it comical, but eventually he lines up a gifted but almost pathologically shy singer-songwriter, Tony Ridge (Lee Holmes), who has a shock of dark blond hair.
He then lands Spittle's ex-lead guitarist Wynn Knapp (Kevin Corrigan), a very bright guy with glasses who's not sure he "can handle this rock 'n' roll lifestyle." Rounding out the band (which the members decide to call Circus Monkey) is Eric Ellwood (Steve Parlavecchio), a fiery guy prone to trouble.
The band even succeeds in persuading legendary road manager Linus Tate (Doug MacMillan) to come aboard.
(Schultz certainly has a way in coming up with wonderful yet believable names for his people and casting actors with the same quality of authenticity. He presents Tate as a kind of beneficent enigma, although more definition and clarity of his character and role might have been the more effective way to go.)
If the film's buildup is amusing, it gets even funnier when Circus Monkey hits the road in a beat-up van for its very first tour, involving a grueling schedule of one-night stands through several Southern states.
Some years ago Schultz himself had some band experience, and throughout the film there's the sense that every zany thing that happens conceivably could (and probably has). With its abundance of alternative college rock music, "Bandwagon" is a film rich in telling details and sharp observations. Schultz is wonderfully accomplished in his ability to bring out the idiosyncrasies of four young musicians, both in his writing and in his directing of his stars.
Few comedies are entirely successful if they're entirely froth. "Bandwagon" builds steadily to its inevitable moment of truth when Circus Monkey has to decide whether the music it is making is a means to an end--or is an end in itself.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: It includes strong language.
Lee Holmes: Tony Ridge
Steve Parlavecchio: Eric Ellwood
Matthew Hennessey: Charlie Flagg
Kevin Corrigan: Wynn Knapp
A Cinepix Film Properties release. Writer-director John Schultz. Producers Alyson Poole, Schultz. Cinematographer Shawn Maurer. Editor John Pace. Music Greg Kendall. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.
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