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Eddie And The Cruisers / Eddie And The Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!
"If I was in a bar and I heard you playin', it would be nice being in there. Then I'd go home, and I'd forget all about it."
Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!
There's something heartening about the way that the 1983 musical drama Eddie and the Cruisers bounced back from a bungled theatrical release to become a giant hit on HBO. It was so popular that its soundtrack, anchored by the memorable rocker "On the Dark Side," eventually went quadruple platinum. Like many movies that were in heavy rotation on HBO in the '80s, Eddie and the Cruisers has maintained a cult following ever since, which explains why the movie is getting a polished-up Blu-ray release paired with its belated, godawful sequel from 1989, Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!.
Personally, I'm a little too young to have caught the first film during its pay cable heyday, so I don't have any nostalgic warm and fuzzies to mitigate what I see as the film's many weaknesses. Still, I have to admit that the transfers MGM has licensed to Shout! Factory are great-looking and great-sounding, so if you're already one of the Cruisers converted, you are welcome to ignore what I have to say about the content and celebrate the stellar A/V quality instead.
The original Eddie is a charming though unfortunately overambitious portrait of an early '60s Jersey Shore bar band that were on the verge of greatness when the distraught lead singer, Eddie Wilson (Michael Paré), drove his Chevy off a bridge. His body was never found. The film employs a Citizen Kane-aping flashback structure, in which '80s entertainment reporter Maggie Foley (Ellen Barkin) tries to find out what happened to the missing recordings of the experimental second album that the band was working on prior to the accident. The question of whether or not Eddie faked his own death lingers in the popular consciousness as well (the existence of a sequel subtitled "Eddie Lives!" makes the tension of this story thread a lot less compelling).
Maggie starts interviewing former band members and other folks associated with the Cruisers. Sensitive lyricist and keyboard player Frank "Word Man" Ridgeway (Tom Berenger) might have been most emotionally affected by Eddie's death, setting aside his literary dreams to become a high school English teacher. Bass player Sal (Matthew Laurance) has been doing a Mike Love-style nostalgia act for years, using the Cruisers name and playing Cruisers hits for appreciative audiences every week, getting lookalikes to fill in the gaps in the line-up. Band manager Doc (Joe Pantoliano) is also in the nostalgia business, spinning golden oldies as a DJ at a tiny Jersey radio station and pining for those Cruisers royalties he foolishly signed away years ago. Meanwhile, backup singer and Eddie's old flame Joann (Helen Schneider) keeps getting mysterious phone calls that lead her to wonder if Eddie is still alive and coming for her soon.
The film has a strong cast, and they uniformly deliver solid performances when their characters are offstage (onstage, their lip-synching and fake guitar strumming leave something to be desired). But unfortunately, the actors are not engaging enough to completely hide the fact that the story's constant crosscutting between two timelines effectively sucks the dramatic momentum out of both the past and the present. The Lords of Flatbush director Martin Davidson and his sister/co-writer Arlene Davidson conceive some interesting scenes, such as the moment where a tone-deaf Word Man brings "On the Dark Side" to the band and Eddie revs up the misbegotten number into a bona fide hit, or a late-film trip to Vineland, New Jersey's Palace Depression, a grand estate made literally of junk, where a bummed-out Eddie unloads to Joann about his misunderstood musical masterpiece that the record company won't release. There's even an interesting subtle commentary in the present-day scenes on the crassness of the '60s-nostalgia business (just as the soundtrack to Lawrence Kasdan's 1983 hit The Big Chill was helping it to explode). But the characters seem to get lost in the shuffle of the greatest-hits-style storytelling. For instance, the death of the band's sax player Wendell (Michael "Tunes" Antunes) is flat-out stated at the beginning of the film as a major cause of Eddie's suicidal depression. Wendell says about two lines in the film. I have no idea who this guy is and why he is in the band. I especially don't know why he is so important to Eddie.
In many ways, the flimsiness of the plot can be forgiven, because the songs by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band that are supposed to be the Cruisers' work are surprisingly strong. As I said above, Michael Pare is a pretty poor lip-syncher but he still physically exudes animal magnetism and electricity in the many performance scenes, which does wonders for the film's watchability. I want to nitpick that the Cruisers sound in this film more like Springsteen's band in the '70s than any band recording in the '60s, but compared to the horrible '80s noise that crops up in the sequel, this anachronism is forgivable.
Eddie and the Cruisers:
And speaking of horrible things from the '80s, let's get my assessment of Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! out of the way as quickly as possible. In fact, this will be the quickest thing about this sequel. The original film might have some slow patches, but this thoughtless cash-grab is the most mind-numbing slog I have had to sit through during my tenure here at DVD Talk.
All you really need to know about the film happens before the story even starts. The studio logo appears: "Scotti Bros. Pictures." Scotti Bros. is best known as a record label. In fact, it's the record label that handled John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, a group who sold four million Cruisers soundtracks and then had two albums in a row go nowhere. You probably see where I'm going with this and are about to say, "But wait, isn't that a lot of effort: making a movie just to sell another soundtrack album and get this band back on the charts?" Yes, it probably is too much, which is why the makers of Eddie and the Cruisers II seem to have instead expended as little effort and money as possible. Why else would you set a film about New Jersey musicians almost entirely in that northern tax-rebate haven, Canada, then hire the guy who made the poorly received slasher Visiting Hours to direct?
The last-minute revelation at the end of the first film that Eddie had decided to live in self-imposed exile actually opens up pretty cool narrative possibilities for a sequel. How do you re-emerge in the culture after you've been a rock and roll martyr? How do you face the friends and loved ones to whom you've been lying for two decades? How do you cope? It's incredibly frustrating and depressingly predictable that the movie mostly ignores these thematically rich issues and just has Eddie instead decide to put another band together. (He wants to find his way back into the spotlight without being a part of the "Eddie Wilson freak show.")
Matthew Laurance as Sal the bass player is the only other Cruiser besides Michael Pare to return for the sequel (most of the other band members appear in copious flashbacks from the first film, although Tom Berenger must have asked to be cut out -- or he wanted to be paid). The scene where Eddie finally reveals his not-dead-ness to Sal feels perfunctory and totally false emotionally.
Worst of all, the songs by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band are just atrocious, and Pare's interpretations of them onstage are limp and lifeless. If the songs in the first film have an uncanny resemblance to Springsteen's early era then the sequel's songs resemble someone desperately trying to copy Springsteen's Born in the USA arena-rock era -- and failing. A stripped-down number called "NYC Song" is actually pretty good, which suggests that maybe some of the fault lies with the trend-chasing audio production, but it can't only be that.
Plus, you know your film is in trouble when the clear highlight is the Larry King cameo.
Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!:
(The main content grade on this article reflects the rating for the first film, because I think the sequel should just be regarded as a fascinatingly misguided supplemental special feature.)
Considering their age and low budgets, both of these films look surprisingly excellent. Mostly clean (Eddie Lives! has a few noticeable speckly moments) and crisp, the AVC-encoded 1080p 1.85:1 transfers have a pleasing film grain structure and no significant compression issues. The colors are rich, the black levels are strong, and skin tones are consistently realistic throughout. These are some great transfers.
They didn't bother with a 5.1 remix, but it's no matter, because the DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo audio tracks for these films are powerful enough on their own. Non-music scenes sound clean and easily understandable, but it's the music scenes that really shine. The songs in the second film are lighter on the low end, but I have to expect that relates more to the trends in music production in the late '80s than to the transfer job we have here. Both films offer English subtitles.
Because the world is unfair, most of the features relate to the sequel.
- Trailers - for both films
- Eddie and the Cruisers II Behind the Scenes (HD upconverted from SD, 10:26) - Video B-roll taken from the shooting of the climactic concert scene. Pretty good time capsule stuff.
- Interview - Larry Stossel - CBS Records (5:06) - This seems like interview selects that were intended for some kind of EPK about the soundtrack. Stossel mostly talks about the synergy between John Cafferty's music and the second movie. Very money-minded.
- Interview - Johnny Musso (3:44) - More low-energy interview selects from a music exec talking about the soundtracks. He unconvincingly claims that he thinks the second soundtrack is even better than the first.
- Interview - Tony Scotti - Scotti Bros. Records/Pictures (12:27) - More slick corporate shilling for the second movie and soundtrack, but Scotti makes for a smoother, more entertaining interview presence than his peers. Like all of these clips, it's enlightening in its unintended portrait of a record executive's mindset.
As I said at the start, if you're already an Eddie and the Cruisers fan, then all you really need to know is that this release looks great and sounds great. It's light on meaningful extras, so I wouldn't offer a high recommendation for fans, but you still get a solid Recommended. For first-timers like me, I think the first film will play as an interesting jumble of musical highlights, good acting, and ineffective plotting. (The second film should just be ignored.) So, for we newcomers, I say Rent It.
Justin Remer is a frequent wearer of beards. His new album of experimental ambient music, Joyce, is available on Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed. He directed a folk-rock documentary called Making Lovers & Dollars, which is now streaming. He also can found be found online reading short stories and rambling about pop music.