'Sunset Strip' Evokes the '70s Warmly, Wisely


Since the very title "Sunset Strip" suggests sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, this intimate, reflective, even wistful little film comes as a surprise. To be sure, the above-listed elements are in evidence, but the emphasis is on the character of six individuals whose lives we follow over the course of 24 hours sometime in 1972. It's a look back at an exciting era from a mature perspective, suffused with an inevitable nostalgia but even more a compassionate wisdom.

While not stunningly original, "Sunset Strip" is nonetheless affecting and persuasive, for clearly its makers care about their people. It would have had at least a fighting chance of finding an appreciative audience as a specialized release rather than as a mainstream Fox 2000 Pictures presentation; in any event, it opens with little fanfare at the AMC Century 14.

Simon Baker's handsome, blond Michael is a 30ish professional photographer who tells us that "L.A. is a gold mine. Your life could change in 24 hours."

That's been true in many contexts throughout the city's history, but whereas Michael has responded to its eternal promise of fame and fortune, he is a mature man who takes his work as a celebrity photographer seriously. He shares an apartment near the Strip with Rory Cochrane's neurotic but brilliant Felix, the Oscar Levant of rock composers, who's had a hit in the past but is now hitting the skids while struggling to come up with another winner.

Michael works frequently with Anna Friel's Tammy, a fashion designer with a trendy shop on the Strip catering to rock musicians. Anna is attractive, vivacious and ambitious--and finds her customers often hard to resist.

Her current No. 1 customer is Tommy J. Flanagan's Duncan, a tall, sexy Scottish rock star with a wicked scar setting off his striking features. Michael has fallen hard for Tammy but is finding it hard to declare his feelings, realizing how easily she is swept off her feet by her glamorous clients. Indeed, Duncan is soon urging her to rush off with him to London "for a while."

Tammy is just beginning to realize she may have to decide soon between her career and an endless round of casual sex. In the meantime, a very young rock guitarist and singer-composer, Zach (Nick Stahl), is hoping that opening for Duncan will be his big break. Weaving in and out of the multi-strand plot is Adam Goldberg's amusingly obnoxious talent manager and Jared Leto as a currently hot and none-too-sharp rock star.

Director Adam Collis and writers Randall Jahnson and Russell DeGrazier tell the stories of all these people with wit and affection, and "Sunset Strip" moves smoothly amid a near-perfect period evocation, captured in an array of shifting moods by cinematographer Ron Fortunato. (Even the Whisky is seen again painted in its alternating squares of yellow gold and lavender, checkerboard style.)

Of course, there are a slew of vintage songs, with a complementary score by Stewart Copeland. The contributions of costume designer Ha Nguyen and production designer Cynthia Charette and her associates are outstanding, amusingly retro and all but flawlessly accurate--and absolutely crucial to making "Sunset Strip" come alive.

* MPAA rating: R, for sexuality, language and drug content. Times guidelines: The sex and drugs of the rock scene depicted are not sensationalized or otherwise exploited.

'Sunset Strip'

Simon Baker: Michael

Anna Friel: Tammy

Nick Stahl: Zach

Rory Cochrane: Felix

Adam Goldberg: Shapiro

Tommy J. Flanagan: Duncan

A Fox 2000 Pictures presentation of a Linson Films production. Director Adam Collis. Producers Art Linson, John Linson. Executive producer James Dodson. Screenplay by Randall Jahnson and Russell DeGrazier. Cinematographer Ron Fortunato. Editor Bruce Cannon. Music Stewart Copeland. Costumes Ha Nguyen. Production designer Cynthia Charette. Art director Jay Pelissier. Set decorator Robert Kensinger. Set designers Fanee Aaron, Stephanie J. Gordon. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Exclusively at the AMC Century 14, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Century City Shopping Center, (310) 553-8900.

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