"In His Life: The John Lennon Story" is clearly the work of a well-versed team of Beatlemaniacs.
But that's the trouble.
Too often, this two-hour dramatization of Lennon's meteoric rise to fame as a young man in Liverpool goes for the obvious quote or other point of Beatle trivia rather than even attempting to develop a fully realized picture of a truly complicated man.
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'In His Life: The John Lennon Story'
WHEN: It airs Sunday, Dec. 3, at 9 p.m. on NBC.
It's like reading the Cliff's Notes. Or the Children's Bible.
Here's where Johnny tells the lads they're going to the toppermost of the poppermost.
And here he is in Hamburg with a toilet seat around his neck.
But do they need to race us through important moments in his life to get more quotes and details in?
The Beatlemaniacs already know the details well enough to catch the ones you simplify.
And no one else will recognize them anyway.
The reason "Backbeat" is, by far, the greatest movie ever made about the Beatles is it chose to focus on the smallest story possible -- John's relationship to pre-McCartney bassist Stuart Sutcliffe -- allowing the writer to flesh the story out into a film that could stand on its own outside the cult of Beatlemania.
Here, the Stuart storyline just breezes by like all the other storylines as six or seven years of Lennon's life go by so fast, you barely even have a chance to notice that the guy who plays him (Phillip McQuillan) would have been more suited to "The Corey Feldman Story." True, the kid has absolutely mastered one of Lennon's silly faces, but the rest is just all wrong, from the appearance to the accent to the mannerisms. And he's practically a Lennon clone compared to the actor someone thought would make a good George Harrison. He's so not George it makes you wonder why they didn't just go all the way and bring in Gary Coleman. Then, at least, it could have made it as a cult film.
There are other problems here.
The singing is awful.
The melodrama of the scenes with Lennon's mother gets so bad, at one point, I actually laughed out loud. And when he sits down on his bed the day his mother dies, after trashing his room, to sing a tearful "Love Me Tender," it's so ridiculously maudlin you'd swear you were watching an afternoon soap.
The most annoying problem, though, is the director's relentless foreshadowing. While goofing his way through the lyrics of "Be Bop A Lula" at the Cavern Club, he sings that she's the woman who "drives my car." As if. The day the boys report to Abbey Road to meet George Martin, they take the crossing single file just like the album cover shot. I'm sure that's how it happened. The camera lingers on a storefront long enough for any 2-year-old to notice that the sign says Penny Lane. And when a bobby chases Lennon and his pal from getting drunk in the garden of Strawberry Fields, the kids run through a graveyard where they're mystified to find a headstone reading "Eleanor Rigby." It's all too much.
And yet, the film is not without its charms. But neither was "Fantasy Island." If you care at all about the early Beatles, you're better off renting a copy of "Backbeat" or reading "The Beatles Anthology."