No wonder American theater owners passed on Michael Jackson's 94-minute film "Moonwalker," which has been showing in foreign movie houses since last fall. It's being released in this country today, but on video only (CBS Music Video Enterprises, $24.98).
It's surprising that moviegoers anywhere would pay to see this, because it's not really a movie. Forget the hype about "Moonwalker" being avant-garde cinema or 94 minutes of mind-blowing surrealism. This is just a collection of music videos promoting Jackson's "Bad" album, featuring conceptual clips for songs like "Bad," "Speed Demon" and "Leave Me Alone." Sure, they're slick, well-crafted and expensive-looking, but they're still just music videos. And they're not even strung together in any particularly imaginative fashion.
If you're older than 12, you're likely to be turned off by Jackson's juvenile concepts. "Moonwalker" is mostly kid stuff--primarily aimed at the Saturday-morning cartoon set. The "Bad" video is a mild parody of the Jackson original, this time done with a kiddie cast. The "Speed Demon" sequence, mixing live action with animation, is even more cutesy, with Jackson being chased by bunch of clay-cartoon fans.
The long, elaborate "Smooth Criminal" clip--supposedly the showpiece of the film--is rather silly, with Jackson playing a super-hero battling a villain (Joe Pesci) who's trying to hook kids on drugs. This would have been more palatable if it had been done with humor. But Jackson is dead serious about this childish heroic fantasy. You get the feeling that all this adulation has gone to his head--that he's confusing being a pop-music superstar with being a superhero.
The best song in "Moonwalker" isn't even Jackson's. It's "The Moon Is Walking," a mesmerizing, chant-like number written and performed by the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. But you have to wade through the whole film to savor this one, which is played during the closing credits.
The live-performance clips of "Man in the Mirror" and the Beatles' "Come Together"--both done with a minimum of conceptual clutter--are, along with the Ladysmith Black Mambazo song, the highlights of "Moonwalker." They're relatively simple depictions of Jackson doing what he does best--singing and dancing.
Throughout the rest of "Moonwalker," however, there's a feeling of overkill. The fancy production and grandiose concepts simply overwhelm the songs. Jackson should have scrapped all these overblown concepts and just done a concert film.