DVD review: Escape to 'Stony Island'

Back in 1978, right before rap started to take over the world, an aspiring filmmaker named Andrew Davis — who would later go on to direct “Under Siege” and “The Fugitive” — managed to scrape together the money for this (in several senses of the word) funky feature about an aspiring Chicago band trying to scrape together a career. There are two white guys — Richie (Richie Davis, the director's brother) and Harold (George Englund, son of Cloris Leachman) — but the rest of the band is black. So is the music, which is funk/soul/R&B; think Tower of Power and Earth Wind and Fire. Their mentor is sax player Percy (Gene Barge, best known for his work with Gary Bonds).

The script is pretty much a loose collection of elements used before and since for aspiring-musician movies. But, despite — or maybe because of — some ragged acting and rough production values, it has an undeniable energy and a realistic sense of time and place.

In addition to those who were already well known as musicians (Oscar Brown Jr., Phil Upchurch and Ronnie Barron), nearly everyone involved went on to greater renown. Bangle Susanna Hoffs — whose mother co-wrote and coproduced — has a small role as Richie's love interest. Rae Dawn Chong makes her film debut as one of the band's singers, as well as cowriting one of the songs. The strikingly young Dennis Franz quickly moved on to Brian De Palma movies and “Hill St. Blues.” Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto ended up shooting “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” and “Sixth Sense.”

The DVD has two main extras. One is billed as an “alternative ending,” but it’s really a bit more than that — an extra 12 minutes or so that would have immediately followed the commercial release ending. Better yet is “The Making of Stony Island,” a better-than-usual 35-minute documentary including interviews with Barge, Chong, both Davises and both Hoffses, not to mention comments from Quincy Jones and Chuck D.

"Stony Island" (Cinema Libre Studio, DVD, $19.95)

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