EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS 1 & 2: A Mostly Rockin’ Blu-ray Double Feature

Eddie & The Cruisers 1 & 2 cruised onto Blu-ray as a Double Feature from Shout! Factory on April 14.

I don’t recall that I had ever even heard of these films before a screener copy showed up, but to love rock & roll is only natural so of course I went ahead and gave this double-feature disc a spin. I was pleased with the result, especially for an unsolicited random watch.

Part nostalgic rush, part rock n’ roll story, and part mystery, I found this to be an achingly wistful and very satisfying film. Back in the early 60’s, Eddie & The Cruisers were a top rock band, successfully touring and recording popular hits. The band primarily owed its success to its two most ingenious members: frontman and musical virtuoso Eddie Wilson (Michael Paré), and lyricist Frank “Wordman” Ridgeway (Tom Berenger). As Eddie says, they need each other — their secret is the synthesis of “words and music”.

After headlocking with upset producers while recording their very different sophomore album “A Season In Hell”, a work of angst and darkness that would reinvent the band’s sound, Eddie stormed out of the studio. His car was driven into a river and his body never recovered. The finished album was scrapped and the band permanently dissolved.

Two decades later, the remaining band members have moved on with their lives and dealt with their dashed dreams in their own ways. But a popular revival of the band’s music brings old mysteries back into the spotlight, and as Frank, now a schoolteacher, recounts his experiences to a curious journalist, we see band’s story come to life in his intimate retelling, including the struggles, conflicts, and roadblocks which eventually unraveled the group. The fact that Eddie’s body was never recovered is still a mystery, but an even bigger mystery is what happened to A Season In Hell‘s now infamous and highly sought-after master tapes. To that end, Joe Pantoliano is a highlight of the supporting cast, playing a washed-up music exec who previously managed the band and now hopes to find their lost record to salvage his own fallen career.

Reading some other reviewers’ comments on the film, it’s clear to me that some people simply never picked up on the fact that this film isn’t about Eddie. His name may be in the title, but Frank is actually the protagonist and it’s his arc that we care about as he tries to understand what ultimately happened to his old friend.

This is a beautifully told story with some pretty solid music (provided by John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band) and a surprisingly deep emotional core. Definitely recommended.

The sequel is both serviceable and problematic, failing in many ways to live up to the first film, but also bringing its own new merits. All further discussion will unravel certain mysteries from the first film, so proceed with caution. Spoilers ahead.

The first film was mostly about Frank, but Eddie comes front and center in this oddball sequel. As the title suggests, Eddie is indeed alive, living in Canada under an alias and out of the spotlight. He was wounded by his brush with greatness, and it eats away at him. He still loves music, and his self-imposed exile is driving him crazy because his music has no outlet, spurred on by the resurgence of his old band and the events of the first film.

Still keeping his identity secret, he forms an entirely new band, and with them begins to rebuild something like his old life but as an unknown playing bars and small gigs. He resolves to earn his way back up from the bottom, refusing to cash in on his famous name.

This movie has a couple things going for it. Seeing Eddie’s return is a bit of a wish fulfillment for anyone who enjoyed the first film, and Anthony Sherwood adds a positive presence as Eddie’s new saxophonist Hilton Overstreet, a pleasant character who keeps both Eddie and the story grounded. John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band return to perform the musical duties (and sell soundtracks) as the real-life version of the band.

The film isn’t bad on its own terms, but does that annoying thing that sequels should never do — it minimizes aspects of the first film. Tom Berenger’s Frank “Wordman” Ridgeway was the poetic soul of the first film. Thematically speaking, we learned that despite their confrontations, the pair’s collaboration of “words and music” was the critical component of their success. The sequel ignores this completely, moving on with a new Eddie story but not including a “Wordman” equivalent character in this new formula.

Moreover, the film goes out of its way to remove Wordman completely. There was something cynical or rotten at work here, as Tom Berenger is notably missing even from the Flashback scenes even though all the other band members are present. You can almost see the contractual limitations at play and it’s so very, very lame, detracting enormously from the film’s overall tone.

Another flaw is that Eddie is still an irritable and brooding presence, which doesn’t play nearly as well as a lead character as it did in the previous film as a mysterious ghost of the past. We feel his frustrations and angst, but they feel more misplaced now that he’s no longer a young man — we expect our protagonists to demonstrate a bit more maturity and heroism.

Despite the sequel’s flaws, it’s still an enjoyable if forgettable movie, and against my reservations I still found myself once again getting rooting for Eddie Wilson and his new crew. And if we’re being honest, the double-feature format is incredibly forgiving. I was pretty enamored with the first film, and at worst its lesser sequel makes for a very generous bonus feature.

The Package

Eddie & The Cruisers 1 & 2 released on on April 14 and come double-packed as an entry in Shout! Factory’s double feature lineup. Both films and their extras reside on a single disc. They are rated PG and PG-13, respectively.

Special Features and Extras

Aside from the trailers, the extras are presented in interlaced 4:3 SD.

Eddie & The Cruisers

Trailer (2:22)

Eddie & The Cruisers II: Eddie Lives

Trailer (3:03)

Behind The Scenes (10:26)
 Far from comprehensive, this BTS video is basically raw footage from the film’s concert climax. In real terms, this footage was shot between sets at a Bon Jovi show.

 Interviews with Larry Stessel (5:06), Johnny Musso (3:44), Tony Scotti (12:27). These apparent music execs focus more on the films’ music than the movies themselves, inadvertently lending some support to the belief that the second film was just a commercial for the soundtrack album. The best guest is Tony Scotti, who talks a bit about both films and goes into some depth on his experiences.

A/V Out.

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