There's something about being able to go to my friends and say, "I've just seen the most bizarre movie..." that I've always loved. I remember when I first saw "Napoleon Dynamite," a few days later a friend of mine asked what movies I'd seen recently and I had to say, "Man, I just saw the most bizarre movie." He then went and rented it and came back a week later saying, "That movie was really bizarre." So allow me to give an official "man I just saw the most bizarre movie" for "Across the Universe."
I'd been intrigued by this movie since I first heard about the project. The premise is simple...string a story together using classic Beatles songs. The end result is part "Moulin Rouge" (which is a good thing) and part "Rent" (which is a bad thing). The problem is this has been tried before and the end result has been known to cause seizures in lab rats. It was 1978 and the movie was called "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," it is one of the worst movies ever made...and, of course, I highly recommend it. Picture this in your mind, but I accept no responsibility for any brain damage that may occur. Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees star as Sgt. Pepper's band. It seems that Mean Mr. Mustard has stolen some magical instruments from Heartland USA, so the boys go on journey to get them back. Along the way they encounter a bunch of strange characters all of whom seem to have a way with a Beatles song that will have you begging for William Shatner's version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Celebrity cameos are everywhere, including Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Steve Martin, and Earth Wind & Fire.
"Across the Universe" does not suffer from the extreme level of camp that oozes from "Sgt. Pepper's," but it is interesting to note that both films use similar gimmicks. For example, most of the characters in both films have names that come from Beatles lyrics. Peppers has Billy Shears, The Hendersons, Mr. Kite, and Mean Mr. Mustard while "Across the Universe" features Jude, Lucy, Jojo, Sadie, and Prudence. It actually becomes somewhat distracting. The character of Prudence in "Across the Universe" seems to serve no purpose to the story other than as an excuse to include the song "Dear Prudence" midway through the film.
Both films also feature a variety of bizarre cameos. In "Across the Universe" we have Bono showing up as the leader of some sort of psychedelic field trip called Dr. Robert (another name from a Beatles song), multiple versions of Salma Hayek show up during a strange rendition of "Happiness is a Warm Gun," and Eddie Izzard plays ringmaster to a cast of strange puppets in a truly awful rendition of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite." At least the puppets were cool.
The music this time around is much better, but the "story" twists around more than the guys at Cirque Du Soleil just to include over 30 Beatles songs. The visuals are certainly eye catching, but for every sequence that had me saying, "wow that's cool," there was another one that had me shaking my head thinking, "that's really dumb."
"Across the Universe" is not complete squeeze cheez like it's 1978 counterpart, but I'm not sure I can give it a thumbs up review either. Actually, I think both of these Beatles musicals I would rank as guilty pleasures. Most movie fans probably have several films that they just can't resist watching for the 27th time on TBS, despite the fact that they are a far cry from "Citizen Kane." Sgt. Peppers is certainly in that category for me, and I have a feeling that Across will be joining it.
This has me thinking I should do a series of blogs on some other movies I would call guilty pleasures. Stay tuned. How 'bout you? What movies are some of your guilty pleasures?