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Great World of Sound

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/27/07 19:04:02

"Ironically, for a film about rip-offs..."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2007 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: I've been encountering evidence that we need more sub-ninety minute movies for a few months now, whether it be in the form of (mostly older) movies that are just tight as heck with the short running time or others that seem to be stretched out to give the filmgoer the appearance of value for money. It saddens me to report that "Great World of Sound" falls firmly into the latter category: An idea that's not bad but which would be much more effective if it was told more efficiently.

The good idea is a movie about song-sharking, the predatory practice of so-called music producers arranging auditions in which they convince would-be professional musicians that they will help them put out an album, although the artist has to put up 30%. The album, of course, never materializes. In Great World of Sound, the people selling this bill of goods are Martin (Pat Healy) and Clarence (Kene Holliday), although they to are initially duped into thinking they've been hired by a successful producer. It doesn't take very long before they realize what they're involved in, but they need the money and are able to convince themselves that there's at least some effort being made to follow through.

Pat Healy and Kene Holliday working together could form the basis of a very good buddy picture. Aside from being opposites physically - Healy is a young, scrawny, pasty Caucasian with a receding hairline; Holliday is black, middle-aged and kind of burly - they work their characters' contrasting personalities of each other very well. Healy makes Martin nervous, a little na´ve, and indecisive; he's a good partner for Clarence because his lack of ability to do the hard sell makes the operation look more credible. Clarence is, of course, very good at the hard sell; Holliday makes him a graduate of the school of hard knocks whose larger-than-life personality fills whatever room he's in almost to overflowing. They do a lot of recognizable bits - Clarence making a race-related comment that makes Martin uncomfortable followed by a big laugh and "I'm just kidding" and Martin joining the laugh nervously, for instance - but they do them with a believable lack of polish. Holliday doesn't seem to be trying to project a cool image when he does his thing, and Martin's squirmy enough to be genuinely uncomfortable.

The trouble is, they spend an awful lot of time auditioning acts. There are at least three sequences of Martin and Clarence sitting in a hotel room while a series of singers and bands come through, play, and get the pitch, and it gets rather repetitive. Each of these segments has a point that moves the plot forward in them, but they also feel like they exist in large part because co-writer/director Craig Zobel had a clever idea: Run an actual ad like the ones song-sharkers use and let Healy and Holliday improvise while "auditioning" the bands. Healy and Holliday are up to the task, and we get to see the entire spectrum of talent and delusion that's out there, but the auditions take up a lot of time. While they're going on, the film becomes about the bands, rather than Martin and Clarence, and there comes a point where it feels like padding.

Maybe making it less of a two-man show would help a bit. Rebecca Mader is a bit underused as Martin's girlfriend Pam, who is also confronting the difference between how rewarding working in the arts should be and the reality. I like the character's pragmatism. Tricia Paoluccio turns in a nice performance as one of the potential clients whom Martin has particular trouble ripping off. John Baker is a little too fake as "Shank", the operation's ringleader, but he is a convincing hustler.

Cut fifteen or twenty of this film's hundred and six minutes (maybe eliminating the middle batch of auditions), and it might be a funny, sad story or how the desire for fame and success can ruin a person in different ways. As it is, though, it borders on being a chore to get through.

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