Imagine ‘Goodfellas’ without much in the way of stakes, and you’ll get Clint Eastwood’s pleasingly square and forgettable adaptation of the award-winning jukebox musical, which charts the rise and fall of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Like the stage show, the story is told through the eyes of each of the band members – Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) – each talking directly to camera. It’s a half-arsed gimmick that Eastwood and his screenwriters deploy haphazardly (Valli doesn’t even get his turn until the dewy-eyed final scene). This fits the mood of the movie, though, which comes off like one of those meandering reminiscences you indulge in during a family get-together.
The band has a colourful history that involves money mismanagement, mob ties (Christopher Walken bringing his inimitable style to gangster Gyp DeCarlo) and even actor Joe Pesci (Joseph Russo), who was instrumental in introducing keyboardist Gaudio to the group. Yet Eastwood directs each scene with a creaky monotony that nullifies most of the drama. Even when the characters ratchet up the colourful mob insults or the film shifts back and forth in time, things feel sleepy and sedate.
That leaves the musical performances of hits like ‘Walk Like a Man’ and ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ to pick up the slack (it was a good move to hang on to Tony-winning actor Young as the angel-voiced Valli). Neither the creaky aesthetic nor laughable old-age makeup hampers Young’s charm and charisma. He makes the music come alive despite the cinematic embalming.