Wednesday, February 4, 1998


Posted By on Wed, Feb 4, 1998 at 12:00 AM

If only pop culture was smart enough to have its own disallowance rules &emdash; a fail-safe system, if you will, to prevent the spread to the eyes and ears of hokey, "authentic" cultural productions. Such a device might save consumers from the surplus of run-off stories like that of the struggling rock 'n' roll band portrayed in John Schultz's debut film, Bandwagon.

Set in the indie music scene of North Carolina, Bandwagon chafes with its banality in re-envisioning the rock 'n' roll road movie. The films that succeed in this realm do so through their inventive styles, whether bare-bones documentaries or the occasional tongue-in-cheek satire, a la This Is Spinal Tap. In this case, Schultz bluntly depicts the rise of Circus Monkey, a crummy garage band, as a wonderfully uncontrived drama &emdash; without the use of a plot. Instead, we get all the lame narrative obeisances to the band's struggle, told in uncompelling fashion: their "discovery" by enigmatic road manager Linus Tate (Doug MacMillan); the pivotal, behind-the-scenes fight over the girl and the band's direction; and of course, the clichéd, faith-testing meeting with demonic record industry execs.

Schultz endows Bandwagon with all the genuine flavor its subject matter provides, no doubt going for the freshness of the "independent" cachet. He stumbles into a puree, juggling the edgy spontaneity of Trainspotting with the somnolence of Easy Rider. Not that there are drugs lurking on this group's tour bus. Schultz's leaden pacing and "quirky" sense of humor alone drag the flick straight into a morphine nod. (Not to demean the band of that same name, either.)

It could be argued that a band movie is no better than the music played by said collective. On this point, Circus Monkey should have starred in a film called The Death of Rock Music. Their utterly perfunctory yield typifies the senseless classification of guitar-driven music into crappy sub-categories: "grunge," "alternative," "power pop" &emdash; almost all of it soulless, forgettable noise.

Schultz and star Kevin Corrigan practically map out a default category for much of the "authentic" b.s. that runs through Sundance. This is a film about purely pointless matters.

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