Movie review: 'Garage Days'

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2 stars (out of 4)

"Garage Days" is a lively little Australian rock movie hamstrung and sunk by one of the least successful story ideas I've seen recently. It's about the emotional traumas and drive for success of a mediocre Sydney garage band that can't get gigs and has to bluff, con and bully its way into a big concert.

The movie, which is directed, co-written and co-produced by talented Australian filmmaker Alex Proyas, is almost mystifyingly off-key. The cast is young and bouncy, and Proyas' visual style is as vibrant as it was, on a more lavish level, in his big-budget action movies "The Crow" and "Dark City." But the humor isn't funny, the romance is unengaging and the music, since the band is no good, consists mostly of old cuts -- like Rick James' "SuperFreak" and Burt Bacharach's "This Guy's in Love With You" -- used as background or commentary.

As we watch these likable but talentless kids bumbling along, almost never playing their music, the filmmakers try to keep us interested in their pint-sized romantic and emotional dilemmas. It's not easy, since we've seen it all before. (So, apparently, have audiences in Australia, where "Garage Days" flopped.)

Frontman Freddy (Kick Gurry) loses his girl, perky bass player Tanya (Pia Mirada); Freddy also has the hots for Kate (Maya Stange), who's pregnant by his lead guitarist and best friend, Joe (Brett Stiller). Drummer Lucius, or "Lucy" (Chris Sadrinna), never met a drug he didn't like. In addition, the group has an obnoxious, overeager manager, Bruno (Russell Dykstra), and Joe's dad, ex-rocker Kevin (Andy Anderson), hangs around offering moral support and guitar relief. There's also a suicide-obsessed "other woman" for Joe, sultry Angie (Yvette Duncan). And Sydney's "most famous" rock manager, the dissolute Shad Kern (Morton Csokas), gets improbably blackmailed into giving them their break.

This movie could only work if the jokes were funny, and writers David Warner and Michael Udesky don't deliver the goods. Except for a brief sequence where Tanya's straight, wealthy parents (Anne Grigg and Gunther Berghofer) are invited to dinner and pumped for cash while Lucy spikes the drinks with LSD, the humor falls as flat as the band's music. And though the actors are an attractive lot, only Stange (nominated for an Australian Film Institute acting prize as Kate) and the two managers, Dykstra and Csokas, give interesting performances. The most entertaining scene in the entire film is the little dance done by the core cast to a Tom Jones rocker, played under the end titles.

It's pointless to compare this catchy but silly movie, the equivalent of bubble-gum rock, to rock film classics like "A Hard Day's Night" and "King Creole." But it also fails when stacked up against "The Commitments," which was also about a failed band (albeit one that could cook), or the satirical Aussie-made "Starstruck."

"Garage Days," I'm afraid, should have stayed in the garage.

"Garage Days"
Directed by Alex Proyas; written by Dave Warner, Proyas, Michael Udesky; photographed by Simon Duggan; edited by Richard Learoyd; production designed by Michael Philips; music by David McCormack, Andrew Lancaster, Antony Partos; produced by Topher Dow, Proyas. A Fox Searchlight Pictures release; opens Friday, July 18. Running time: 1:45. MPAA rating: R (language, drug use, sensuality).
Freddy -- Kick Gurry
Kate -- Maya Stange
Tanya -- Pia Miranda
Bruno -- Russell Dykstra
Joe -- Brett Stiller
Lucius ("Lucy") -- Chris Sadrinna
Kevin -- Andy Anderson
Shad Kern -- Marton Csokas
Angie -- Yvette Duncan

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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