[Screen It]

(2002) (Steve Coogan, Danny Cunningham) (R)

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Comedy/Drama: A TV reporter moonlights as a music mogul and helps usher in various musical styles over several decades in Manchester, England.
It's 1976 and Cambridge-educated TV reporter Tony Wilson (STEVE COOGAN) and his wife Lindsay (SHIRLEY HENDERSON) attend a small concert featuring an unknown band by the name of The Sex Pistols. Motivated by the raw energy of their music, Tony convinces their friend, Alan Erasmus (LENNIE JAMES), to start their own venue where such bands can perform.

Eventually meeting manager Rob Gretton (PADDY CONSIDINE), the three then form Factory Records, a label with no binding contracts with their bands that include Joy Division fronted by Ian Curtis (SEAN HARRIS).

Years pass and musical styles and tastes change. As a result, Tony signs on new bands such as Happy Mondays fronted by Shaun Ryder (DANNY CUNNINGHAM) and managed by Martin Hannett (ANDY SERKIS), while also opening their own club, The Hacienda.

Eventually divorced from Lindsay and now seeing Yvette Livesey (KATE MAGOWAN), a former Miss United Kingdom, Tony tries to keep the company afloat - despite his various bad business decisions - while still working as a human interest TV reporter. With the musical market changing over to Rave, and ecstasy and drug dealers ruling the scene, Tony tries to maintain his vision of artistic freedom for his clients.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Back in their heyday, the Monty Python comedy troupe - through their "Flying Circus" TV show and various movies - had a terrifically entertaining way of presenting or reporting on something otherwise unremarkable or even stupid in a mock serious fashion, all of which made the satire even funnier.

Had they still been on the air in the late '70s and '80s, I'm sure they probably would have gotten around to poking fun at the rage, fury and noise that was punk rock, much like "This Is Spinal Tap" did with the heavy metal scene and its washed up "hair farmers."

Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce ("The Claim," "Hilary and Jackie") and director Michael Winterbottom ("The Claim," "Welcome to Sarajevo") have thus apparently taken it upon themselves to put the Pythonesque touch on the punk rock and later Rave scene of Manchester, England of that era in "24 Hour Party People."

Part comedy, part docudrama, the film is based on real-life events and recounts the stories of those involved in them. Apparently much like the real protagonist and driving force involved in both musical movements, Winterbottom has decided to take an unorthodox approach at telling his tale. The result is an uneven, hit or miss affair that never quite hits full Python stride and will probably only be appreciated by fans of one or both such music scenes.

At times, however, the film is rather amusing, particularly when it focus on Tony Wilson, the real-life mastermind terrifically played by Steve Coogan ("The Parole Officer," "Wind in the Willows"). A TV reporter by day and music impresario by night, the real Wilson was decidedly an unconventional sort and Coogan plays him with enough Python flair - and even comes off acting, looking and sounding like one of their troupe members - that the scenes featuring him are the film's highlights.

Whether it's him covering a hodgepodge of human interest stories or serving as our narrator and breaking the fourth wall, Coogan is a blast to watch in the part. As a result, one is likely to come off wishing the movie featured more of him, particularly since the rest of it is a letdown in comparison.

As his character states, the film is about the music and not him. While that may be true, the way in which the filmmakers present and/or cover the various bands and acts leaves more than a bit to be desired. Unlike a film such as "Sid and Nancy" that also focused on that era, we never really get to learn much about the various bands or their members.

In addition, most of the recreations of their performances are purposefully staged and filmed (on digital videotape, like the rest of the film) in such a way - with poor audio and shaky, hand-held footage - that one can't enjoy them or the music. The visual style is presumably supposed to give the film an edgy and energetic feel, but it comes off as nothing but frustrating, annoying and forced.

The dramatic material regarding the bands is also scattershot at best. Granted, covering several decades of such musical and cultural evolution obviously presents a throughput problem. Even so, the fractured and episodic nature prevents one from being swept away by the story or characters as there's no real momentum and long stretches go by without anything of consequence occurring. While the protagonist is obviously connected to all that transpires, often times he's pushed to the sideline in favor of the rest of the storytelling.

Since we know so little about the other characters, the performances by those who embody them range from okay to forgettable. Shirley Henderson ("Bridget Jones's Diary," "The Claim"), Paddy Considine ("The Last Resort," "A Room For Romeo Brass") and Lennie James ("Snatch," "Lost in Space") play several early figures in the formation of Factory Records, but don't get a lot of screen-time from which to make much of an impression. The same holds true for the likes of Sean Harris (various TV shows), Danny Cunningham ("Loaded") and Chris Coghill ("Slide") as various band members who come and go through the story.

The film is obviously best when emulating the Python approach - it even has "God" appearing in the sky just like the comedy troupe enjoyed presenting from time to time - and it does offer some funny or at least amusing bits. Nevertheless, and unless you're a fan of the music and bands, or are at least knowledgeable about them, this one fails in documenting that or poking fun at it a la "Spinal Tap." "24 Hour Party People" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 12, 2002 / Posted August 16, 2002

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