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‘Eddie’ Comes Cruising Back to the Screen

It was one of the most dramatic, if unlikely, comebacks you’ll ever see in rock ‘n’ roll.

Eddie Wilson, presumed dead since his car was fished out of the water under the Raritan Bridge in New Jersey 25 years ago, stood on an arena stage here and basked in adulation as 11,000 fans greeted his performance with chants of “Eddie . . . Eddie . . . Eddie.”

Only the return of Jim Morrison--or Elvis himself--might have surpassed this in terms of impact on Eddie’s stunned and elated fans.

That was the film fantasy being played out on a grand scale at the Thomas & Mack Center here, as actor Michael Pare fronted a band for the shooting of the final scene of “Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives,” due in theaters in late summer.

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The only element that was real in the final scene Monday night was the crowd: Even though word of the filming of the sequel to 1983’s “Eddie and the Cruisers” was out in advance, this was a genuine rock audience there to see Bon Jovi.

They displayed the required enthusiasm as Pare began lip-syncing to a song by John Cafferty, but the first take was abruptly cut off because the house lights had been left on.

Despite such glitches, most of the fans on hand seemed to think the performance was believable.

“I liked them better than the real opening band,” Gina Ciotti, a 27-year-old Las Vegas cocktail waitress said during the filming, which took place between the sets of L.A. metal band Skid Row and headliner Bon Jovi.

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“I’d watch this on MTV,” agreed Carl Stick, 25, a registered nurse.

It didn’t hurt that all of the Cruisers, aside from Pare, have experience as rock performers. Mark Holmes, who plays basist Quinn Quinley, and Paul Markle, playing drummer Charlie Tansey, are members of the Canadian metal band Platinum Blond. The bare-chested Markle was a particular favorite with the young women in the crowd.

The concert scene--set in Montreal--is the melodramatic climax to the story, in which Wilson has been living under an assumed name and working a day job. But he can’t keep away from rock ‘n’ roll, especially after a revival of interest in his music.

The original film, a mystery of sorts, centered on a reporter’s quest to tell the story of Eddie and the Cruisers and former band members’ efforts to exploit the group’s memory.

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Like its hero, the first film was thought dead not long after it came out. The $5.5-million production petered out on the big screen after pulling in only about $5 million at the box office, while the Cafferty-performed sound-track album sold a so-so couple hundred thousand copies over the course of a year.

But then the movie started to show up on cable, and things really started to rock and roll.

“It was unbelievable,” said Tony Scotti, chairman of Scotti Bros. Entertainment Industries, which released the first album and is distributing the film sequel.

“When the picture went to cable one year after release and we had orders for 20,000 albums the first day, that was a tangible result for us,” Scotti said as he watched run-throughs of the scene Monday afternoon. Within three weeks the album had passed the million-sales mark, and now stands at more than 3 million, still selling at a rate of 5,000 a week.

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After market research confirmed that the cable exposure had given “Eddie” recognition with as much as 90% of the core (ages 12 to 25) movie audience, Scotti commissioned a sequel script, convinced Pare to play Eddie once more, and assigned Cafferty to handle the music. Eddie lived indeed, with a $10-million budget for the sequel.

“For the public, Eddie’s a real person,” said Scotti. “They identify with him as the image of a dedicated rock ‘n’ roller.”

Pare may be the most curious element in the film. Though the Brooklyn-born, 30-year-old former sous chef grew up loving such classic rockers as Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and James Brown and eagerly studied rock moves from his film-band cohorts, he never sought out any real rockers for tips or guidance for his role. But he did say that he once ran into Bruce Springsteen in a Hawaii hotel lobby and received a positive review from the Boss.

As he took a break before the evening shoot, his authentic working-class accent and iron-pumped biceps made it hard to tell how much of the rocker character was affected and how much was real.

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But he did admit that he has been bitten by the rock ‘n’ roll bug--though he doesn’t sing in the films, he has recorded an album and is looking for a label to release it.

Ironically, he admits that the movie role may also prove the greatest hurdle in a singing career.

“I’d probably limit a tour to Europe and Japan, because here it would be a conflict with Eddie Wilson,” he said. “But who knows? If I come out with a hit. . . .”


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