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Stodgy 'Swing' could use a little more jazz

Too plodding and precise, the overly predictable musical fantasy never takes flight.

June 18, 2004|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

The musical fantasy "Swing" aims for lush, follow-your-bliss romanticism, but plays out like a lame cross between a Gap commercial and "Cocoon." It takes a "Twilight Zone"-lite premise and spins it into the ground with addlebrained glee. Painfully sincere in its approach, the movie chugs along with such precise, choreographed steps that there's nary a surprise to be found along the way.

The movie opens promisingly enough to the giddy bounce of a neo-swing band, but quickly falls into predictability. Newcomer Innis Casey plays Anthony Verdi, a frustrated young San Francisco musician trapped by the expectations of his grocer father (Tom Skerritt) and climber fiancee, Valerie (Dahlia Waingort). By day, the tousle-haired Anthony works as assistant manager in the family market while at night he tries to scrape together gigs for his pop trio, crooning John Mayer-like ballads with drippy earnestness.

The only encouragement Anthony receives comes from his great-uncle Bill (Jonathan Winters), a nursing home resident who presses his nephew to be true to himself after a close friend, Mrs. Deluca (Jacqueline Bisset), a lover of swing dancing, passes away. Uncle Bill doles out sage advice to Anthony while also administrating to the creaky moving parts of the plot.

Anthony finds solace when he wanders into a mystical, time-warped nightspot called Club Jimbo where he discovers authentic swing music played by a big band and takes dance and life lessons from a sexy older woman named Christine (also Bisset). As Anthony becomes obsessed with swing and convinced he needs to ditch the job at the grocery and pursue music full time, he keeps magically crossing paths with Mrs. Deluca's cute, hipster granddaughter Tina (Constance Brenneman).

One of the movie's main problems is the lack of contrast between the film's contemporary setting and its retro elements. There's something anachronistic about a 21st century father who assumes his son will take over the family business, oblivious to the fact that the young man has a life of his own. Not to mention the dubious future a family-owned store has in a Wal-Mart world.

Director Martin Guigui's second feature, written by Mary Keil, doesn't jump, jive or wail, preferring to keep its two left feet firmly planted in pointlessness with its murky mantra, "Swing is a metaphor for life. "

All surface shine with little substance, the movie delivers an unintentional self-assessment in the opening scene as Tina asks Anthony, "Do you swing or do you just look the part?" He could be speaking for the movie when he answers, "I guess I just look the part."

*

'Swing'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some sexual content

Times guidelines: A chaste film by grown-up standards

Innis Casey...Anthony Verdi

Jacqueline Bisset...Christine/

Mrs. Deluca

Jonathan Winters...Uncle Bill

Tom Skerritt...George Verdi

Constance Brenneman...Tina

A Dominion Entertainment release. Director Martin Guigui. Producer Ken Patton. Executive producers John Harvey, Mary Keil. Screenplay by Mary Keil. Cinematographer Massimo Zeri. Editor Charles B. Weber. Costume designer Marianna Astrom-De Fina. Music Gennaro Cannelora. Production designer Don De Fina. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.

Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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