‘Jersey Boys’ an off-key movie rendition

The Broadway smash gets the Clint Eastwood treatment.

The Broadway smash “Jersey Boys,” among the most popular of the jukebox musicals, gets the Clint Eastwood treatment in this big-screen adaptation. That means it’s turned into a movie defined by drab colors, muted tones and an overarching seriousness that thoroughly downplays the music while emphasizing The Four Seasons’ roughneck New Jersey roots.

The Eastwood approach works for “Million Dollar Baby” and “Mystic River,” but it seems a bit weird for a movie in which an emotional high point is a rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

I haven’t seen the show, so I can’t comment on the degree to which the film differs from what audiences have been flocking to eight times a week on the Great White Way since 2005. But the film certainly plays as if Eastwood molded the material to shape a vision that adds a degree of realism but seems to operate at cross-purposes with the apparent goal of celebrating classic songs such as “Walk Like a Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

In the most straightforward fashion possible, the movie chronicles the rise of Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) and his fellow original Four Seasons, from their early days on the streets of Newark through fame and fortune and difficult periods. It hits all the expected notes for a biopic, though it is shot and defined like an old-fashioned mob picture, complete with a sepia-toned aesthetic and gritty scenes set on darkened streets.

This is never particularly engaging, despite the great work of Young, who has achieved the sort of close-knit communion with the real Valli that transcends mere acting. He won a Tony when he originated the part on Broadway and, if nothing else, the movie justifies its existence by preserving that performance for posterity.

Yet “Jersey Boys” goes through the paces in a fashion that suggests an overarching failure of imagination. Eastwood fixates so heavily on period details that the film rarely stops to consider what makes The Four Seasons endure.

We get glimpses of the musical process and there are the requisite performances, all of which occur on stage and are about as stirring as covers of these songs could be (which is to say not very). But if you’re going to make a movie about the Four Seasons, it’d be a good idea to show some more interest in what broke them free from their neighborhood rather than just the neighborhood itself.

“Jersey Boys”
Two Stars
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken
Rated R

Robert Levin