Back in 1964, the rock 'n' roll band Eddie and the Cruisers were poised to revolutionise the music industry with their latest album, but it was not to be as the lead singer and songwriter, Eddie Wilson (Michael Paré), crashed his car off the side of a bridge and was never seen again, presumed dead. Now a television documentary crew are interested in telling his story, and begin to track down the surviving members of the band, starting with piano player and lyrics writer Frank Ridgeway (Tom Berenger), who now works as a teacher...
This was a case of one of those movies where the soundtrack album, which spawned a top ten hit in the United States, was far more successful than the source, as the film of the P.F. Kluge novel flopped quite conclusively. However, it was sold to cable TV in that country and broadcast over and over until it managed to find the audience it missed in cinemas; it was still a cult audience, but at least there were a bunch of people who appreciated it and its curiously morose nostalgia for the sixties. That soundtrack was provided by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, and it was safe to say they'd heard of another rocker in their time.
Yes, there were elements of The Eagles, John Cougar Mellencamp, even Bryan Adams in what they played and the actors mimed to, but most of all it was Bruce Springsteen this sounded like, no matter that the hit single bore resemblance to Mellencamp's R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. Which would have been fair enough if this was a film about a band from the seventies, but in the early sixties nobody sounded like The Boss, something hardly excused by the characters near-constantly pointing out that Eddie and the Cruisers were ahead of their time. Given the length of time the film devotes to the musical performances, the gap between what we hear and the supposed authenticity of the tunes, the effect is jarring.
In addition you really have to be fond of Springsteen pastiches to tolerate much of the playing here, so if you'd rather hear Thunder Road than In a Dark Place chances were you would not get on with this. Not helping was that director Martin Davidson was so deadly earnest about his subject matter; fine, this was meant to have been inspired by the urban myth that Jim Morrison had faked his death, but why not make a movie about that rather than an invented rock star who sounded so out of place when the nation was listening to Frankie Avalon and Fabian Forte, which was intended to impress us but looked too much like the filmmakers acting wise after the fact.
So no matter what its fans thought, for those who did not buy into this manufactured hagiography, sort of a rock Citizen Kane, the best you could hope for was to intrigue yourself in the central mystery, which was whether Eddie did actually die all those years ago or if he's still around and looting his ex-bandmates' homes looking for the master tapes of that would-be groundbreaking (so they tell us) album which was never released. The answer to that is disappointing up to a point, though the final shot of the movie suggests something more interesting than the rest of the plot, leaving this really for those who enjoyed the music rather than those who wanted to see a good yarn spun. On the strength of this movie's subesquent cult status, Paré became a minor heartthrob, and there were some interesting people in the cast from Ellen Barkin as a journalist and Joe Pantoliano as one of the band members to Helen Schneider, an actual singer, as the back up vocalist. So it's not uninteresting in theory, it simply played tediously.