The Idolmaker -- NTI Arlington, NTI Marlow, Riverdale Plaza, Roth's Randolph, Roth's Tysons Corner, Showcase Bradlick and West End Circle.
In "The Idolmaker," Ray Sharkey's mesmerizing portrayal of a '50s rock 'n' roll impresario is obliterated by a trite and unimaginative script.
Pick a cardboard character: the brash young kid who works hard, becomes a success and wonders if that's all there is; the nudging mama ("You're 27 years old, how long is this gonna go on?"); the mobster father with the heart of gold. They're all in this saga that aims to give us the lowdown on life when rock'n'roll was young. Instead, we get the same old show-biz stereotypes, with a Me-Decade ending tacked on as an upbeat bonus.
It's a shame, because Sharkey shines as Vincent Vaccari, the street-kid-turned-music-magnate. He brings so much energy and talent to his part that we almost forget the plodding plot.
Ah yes, the plot. Vincent Vaccari is a frustrated singer-songwriter who feels he isn't sexy enough to make it as a performer. He throws his energy into managing the careers of two fellow Bronxians (Paul Land and Peter Gallagher, perfectly cast as Frankie Avalon and Fabian look- and sound-alikes), masterminding their every move and turning them into rock stars. sPotentially fascinating stuff, but it's undercut by the mediocrity of the script. Vaccari travels a predictable route: the rise to the top, the alienation of old friends, the coming home to the big empty house. Lines like, "This is just the beginning, kid" or "This is my night, and you're not taking it away from me!" don't help.
You can see everything coming a mile off. When the smoldering handsome busboy drops a tray of dishes in Vinnie's lap, there's never any doubt that he's to be Vinnie's next rock star. When Vinnie wonders out loud whether there are enough rent-a-cops at his star's concert, it's a given that the star will be mobbed onstage. And so on.
What is fascinating is the behind-the-scenes look at the Teen Idol biz. The movie's "technical advisor," Bob Marucci, knows wherof he advises, having molded the careers of Fabian and Frankie Avalon in real life. Lip-synching at sock hops, making deals with teen magazines, incredible hype jobs -- all was not rosy in the good old days.
The movie is nice as a period piece and, with one glaring exception (when a show pattern after American Bandstand is sponsored by Dannon Yogurt, of all things), is impressively researched. The '50s fashions are fun. As for the music, it has a great beat and, natch, you can dance to it.
As they used to say on American Bandstand, overall I'd give it a 65.