Review Rating: 2/10
Director: Timothy Scott Bogart
Cast: Jeremy Jordan, Michelle Monaghan, Peyton List, Lyndsy Fonseca, Dan Fogler, Jason Isaacs, Vincent Pastore, Casey Likes, Jay Pharoah, Chris Redd, Michael Ian Black, Jason Derulo, and Wiz Khalifa
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes
Available in wide theatrical release
“Spinning Gold” is possibly the worst movie of the year. This quasi-musical benefits from some entertaining song and dance numbers, but the soapy melodrama and false tone laced throughout undermines anything approaching digestible entertainment.
If infamous record producer Neil Bogart was a musical genius with a feel for a hit, his son, writer/director Timothy Scott Bogart, demonstrates that he doesn’t understand the cinematic form. Maybe since son Timothy and his family of producers on this project were so close to the subject matter, their personal connection blinded the team to the movie’s disastrous structural and plot problems.
“Spinning Gold” is a confusing collection of moments in Bogart’s personal and professional life. While director Bogart clearly wants to channel Bob Fosse and give viewers “All That Jazz” style story-telling, “Gold” never finds enough honesty in its central hero around which to build a convincing narrative. Because music producer Bogart hid behind a list of pseudonyms that masked his humble origins and true identity, the movie never gains the viewer’s trust enough to make anything presented seem the least bit credible.
This wide-ranging account spans a couple of decades (Bogart died in 1982 at the young age of 39) trying to force everything into its baggy two-hour seventeen-minute running time. To accomplish this feat, director Bogart uses an endless number of montages, often involving a different famous musical artist played by a modern musical artist.
And to be fair, watching Jason Derulo play Ronald Isley is great fun. But the other artists turned actors aren’t so convincing. The music sung by the actors is perfectly adequate, but the visuals fail to pass muster. Tayla Parx plays Donna Summer and does her best; however, viewers might have trouble connecting her appearance in the film to her real-life counterpart.
But we might have ignored the visual inconsistencies if writer-director Bogart limited his script to a few critical moments like the one involving the recording of Summer’s first disco hit. Viewers who complained about Naomi Ackie’s characterization of Whitney Houston in last year’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” will have similar objections to “Spinning Gold.”
The performances are terribly uneven. Casey Likes plays Kiss bassist and sometimes frontman Gene Simmons. When Simmons’ well-known tongue comes out during stage performances, it’s not campy mimicry. Instead, Likes’ performance feels like something seen on an SNL skit. Part of this problem concerns how the stage performances are shot.
So much of this movie feels composited in post-production. It’s as if the performances were captured on a green screen, and then the other elements were assembled in a computer. The utter strangeness of the visuals makes the film feel as though it continually wants to be a full-blown musical. But director Bogart attempts to straddle the line between a straight narrative drama and one that shares a kinship with a Broadway production.
Ending up in a cinematic limbo land, “Spinning Gold” feels like a musical without the big production numbers. The melodrama is the kind that is acceptable on the stage. However, without the magical realism associated with a classic movie musical, the falseness of the performances comes shining through.
And the failure dramatically here is a real shame. Director Bogart wants to honor his flawed but talented father while at the same time making a film that people want to watch. To that end, he never finds a way to make us believe anything in this fantastic (and likely incredibly true) tale.
What’s unforgivable is that the film’s score is so basic and televisual during the dramatic moments. It’s astonishing that in a movie about the music industry featuring some of the most popular songs of the 1970s, the other music elements are so rudimentary and off-putting. When a sad moment happens, not only do we notice the emotions in the actors, but the intended emotions are telegraphed with television-style music loops.
And Bogart’s screenplay utilizes an unnatural narration style device to pull the threads together. The film opens with Bogart (played by Jeremy Jordan) talking to the camera, trying to convince us that all of this stuff happened.
We revisit Bogart, the narrator, throughout the movie. But the problem is that Bogart never appears to be talking directly to the viewer; instead, he’s looking at some unidentified person or entity off-screen. It’s bizarre, and even as the movie concludes, I questioned who Bogart was talking to.
“Spinning Gold” is an extremely wiggy affair, as the costuming and hairstyles look phony. Maybe Jordan’s hair in the film is a perm, but at times, I swear I could see the edges of a fluffy wig. But there are instances where the costumes do sell the character. For example, Wiz Khalifa looks appropriately outlandish as funk pioneer George Clinton.
Sometimes having a deep passion for a project impedes its success. Writer/director/producer Bogart had plenty of resources and a fantastic story but couldn’t narrow the moments down to focus on what made his father such a talent. By taking a shot-gun approach, the wannabe musical “Spinning Gold” covers too much material with insufficient depth.