Friday, October 12, 2012

FM (1978)

          Had it been made with more verve—and a lot less Hollywood polish—FM could easily have become one of the great rock & roll movies, because the plot is a simple tribute to the rebel spirit of youth-oriented music. When corporate overlords try to force crass advertisements onto the ragtag DJ’s at L.A.’s top rock station, the jocks barricade the doors, take over the station, and broadcast commercial-free tunes until a riot breaks out between kids who want to groove on the music and cops who want to shut the party down. And because somebody working on the picture clearly had heavy music-industry connections, the film is jammed with genuine rock tunes from the era: The picture’s slinky theme song was written and performed by Steely Dan; the score comprises songs by acts including Boston, the Eagles, and Queen; and Jimmy Buffet and Linda Ronstadt perform onscreen. Unfortunately, the music is so good (and so prevalent) that it overwhelms the slight story. Additionally, while FM should’ve been a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am quickie, it sprawls across a lugubrious 104 minutes.
          The hero of the piece is Jeff Dugan (Michael Brandon), an idealistic program director who pushes Q-SKY to the top of the L.A. market. His success draws the attention of Regis Lamar (Tom Tarpey), an ambitious salesman with Q-SKY’s parent company. When Lamar insists that Dugan run ads for the Army, Dugan quits, so his cronies show solidarity by staging the aforementioned occupation. Ezra Sacks’ screenplay never takes flight, wasting the considerable potential of the premise, and the film gets bogged down in unnecessary discursions, like a long sequence of narcissistic DJ Eric Swan (Martin Mull) melting down on the air. Casting is another problem, because while Brandon is smooth, he doesn’t have the star quality needed to play a charismatic ringleader, and supporting players including Eileen Brennan, Alex Karras, James Keach, and Cleavon Little are underused. However, FM gets points for atmosphere. Watching the physical operation of an old-school radio station is fascinating, and the cast features several real-life rock-music personalities. FYI, FM was the only theatrical feature directed by the great cinematographer John A. Alonzo, so the movie looks slick—although Alonzo’s gifts clearly didn’t extend to dramaturgy.


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