Formed in 1975 and effectively imploding a couple years later, all-girl rockers The Runaways wound up in the odd no-man's-land between the cultish glam-rock scene and the advent of punk. As such, the band likely garners more respect today, as pop music endlessly cycles back to reclaim all the minor players as visionaries, than it did in the mid-1970s, when a teenage-girl band was seen first as a novelty.
If nothing else, the time is right to revisit the short, rocky history of the Los Angeles-based band, even if the larger story is woefully familiar: Naïve, vaguely troubled youngsters form band; sudden success and exploitation follow; drugs and personnel issues break up band -- and rock 'n' roll history marches on.
Floria Sigismondi's bio-pic tracks the rise and fall of The Runaways by focusing on two key band members: guitarist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). The film is adapted from Currie's memoir, and Jett is an executive producer; the other band members are lucky to have any lines at all.
It's hard to put a fresh spin on this Behind the Music stuff. Often, Sigismondi's take feels like a slice of history packaged up by someone who learned about rock from watching other movies. (Sigismondi primarily directs music videos.) Hence the hallmark scenes: How I Wrote My Big Hit (in this case, "Cherry Bomb"); stoned in hotel elevator; running wild; fighting with family/manager/rowdy fans; and plenty of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
I believe Sigismondi's heart is in the right place -- after all, she too is a woman toiling in what is still a man's world -- but the film is frequently choppy, with disjointed scenes and too much murk. Attempts to highlight sexism in rock feel scripted, and as a broader issue, lack context. (Women can do pop, but not rock, because ...?)
For the most part, Stewart as Jett lets us forget about Twilight's Bella, but it will be Fanning viewers recall. The Currie storyline simply has more drama, and Fanning is a better actress. And it's jarring to see America's top child actress (now a teen) straddling the stage in lingerie snarling out, "Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!" Some things never change. Starts Fri., April 9. AMC Loews, Manor (Al Hoff) [2.5 out of 4 stars]
Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar's feature is a herky-jerky stop-motion animation starring little plastic toys, the cheap molded sort that might come from a gumball machine. Horse, Cowboy and Indian share a home in a small farming community. Horse is working on getting to know a lady horse (who teaches music to barnyard animals), but much of this tiny world is upended (literally) by Cowboy and Indian's blunder. (They mistakenly order 50,000,000 bricks.) This mishap puts the trio on a bizarre journey -- falling to the core of the Earth, being kidnapped by a mechanical penguin and winding up at the bottom of the sea.
This slightly surreal story is played for laughs with characters using bizarre squeaky voices and plenty of visual gags. And the old-school animation is charming, from the papier-mâché homes to the shredded plastic "water." At 75 minutes, the film is likely a little too long: It has a relentless frantic nature, and some comedic bits test a viewer's patience, such as the neighboring farmer who only BELLOWS LIKE THIS. Adventurous kids raised on similarly goofy SpongeBob who don't mind subtitles (though much of story is self-explanatory) might get a kick out of this Belgian import. In French, with subtitles. Starts Fri., April 9. Harris (Al Hoff) [2.5 out of 4 stars]