11 August 2000 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

"Sunset Strip" is a winning comic drama that is getting a sure-to-fail release from 20th Century Fox. A glance back at an irrecoverably innocent past and the music that galvanized a generation, "Sunset" opens today in Los Angeles and New York with nearly no marketing. It's a pity because, while clearly not an easy sell, this amiable film has the makings of a cult favorite.

"Sunset" was produced by Art Linson and John Linson, and the film is somewhat reminiscent of one of Art's earliest films, "American Hot Wax". Where that film's director, Floyd Mutrux, went for high-energy B-movie sizzle in his encapsulation of 1950s rock 'n' roll, in "Sunset", tyro director Adam Collis takes a more mellow look at the 1970s rock milieu.

Collis and screenwriters Randall Jahnson ("The Doors") and Russell Degrazier freeze-frame a 24-hour period along the fabled Sunset Strip during the summer of 1972, which allows them to sketch miniportraits of several characters in the music scene.

Fashion designer Tammy (Anna Friel) has a clothing store across the street from the famed Whisky-a-Go-Go (as the nightclub was then called). She and photographer Michael (Simon Baker) are scheduled to do an album-cover shoot with flavor-of-the-month rocker Glen (Jared Leto).

A band led by Hendrix-obsessed guitarist Zach (Nick Stahl) is opening that night at the Whisky for the latest British sensation, Duncan (Tommy J. Flanagan). Hyperkinetic peacenik Shapiro (Adam Goldberg) is a talent manager on the prowl for clients. And pianist-songwriter Felix (Rory Cochrane), a kind of latter-day Oscar Levant, fights off depression with a nearly lethal combination of drugs and booze.

Production designer Cynthia Charette and costumer Ha Nguyen have masterfully re-

created the rock scene of 1972. More crucially, Collis and his writers perfectly capture that era's attitudes -- the open approach to sex, drugs, relationships and, pivotally, music. Suddenly, a whole generation was exploring new freedoms in all areas of life. Our own hindsight at the fads and indulgences of 1972 makes us realize how awfully naive we all were.

Tammy has sex with two rockers -- she has a thing for guitar players -- and winds up with a third man, all within 24 hours. A dose of syphilis gets passed around through these romantic interludes without causing much concern to anyone. How many light-years are we removed from that scene.

There is also a good deal of naivete about the music with which the characters' lives are absolutely intertwined. But in those days, music was still a business and not yet an industry. All the characters are earnest about their professions; their true-believer fervor is refreshing. But looking back from 2000, we realize that those days when rock was going to rule the world are gone forever.

The era, of course, produced charismatic, larger-than-life rock legends. But the movie's lively, likable characters are the guys in the trenches, those who create the ambiance from which great stars emerge. The Jimi Hendrixes and Jim Morrisons serve as inspiration and fuel the creativity of those on the fringes of rock.

There is superb behind-the-scenes work here. Executive soundtrack producer Robbie Robertson and composer Stewart Copeland hatch a kick-ass soundtrack. Toni Basil supplies the Richard Lester-inspired choreography. And cinematographer Ron Fortunato gets the true grit of 1972 Los Angeles just right.

One minor caveat: The film's emulation of "American Graffiti"'s concluding update of the characters' destinies cuts against the snapshot quality that "Sunset" strives so hard to establish. We really don't want to know how these people ended up.

SUNSET STRIP

20th Century Fox

2000 Pictures presents

a Linson Films production

Producers: Art Linson, John Linson

Director: Adam Collis

Screenwriters: Randall Jahnson,

Russell Degrazier

Executive producer: James Dodson

Director of photography: Ron Fortunato

Production designer: Cynthia Charette

Music: Stewart Copeland

Costume designer: Ha Nguyen

Editor: Bruce Cannon

Color/stereo

Cast:

Michael: Simon Baker

Tammy: Anna Friel

Zach: Nick Stahl

Felix: Rory Cochrane

Shapiro: Adam Goldberg

Glen: Jared Leto

Duncan: Tommy J. Flanagan

Running time - 90 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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