The Barenaked Ladies are quintessential Canuck pop stars -- ridiculously nice, suburban guys who're self-deprecating to a fault and seem not to suffer from the usual celebrity hubris. Unfortunately, the band's college-boy-next-door persona helps make "Barenaked in America" a tame, less-than-enthralling rockumentary.

The Barenaked Ladies are quintessential Canuck pop stars — ridiculously nice, suburban guys who’re self-deprecating to a fault and seem not to suffer from the usual celebrity hubris. Unfortunately, the band’s college-boy-next-door persona helps make “Barenaked in America” a tame, less-than-enthralling rockumentary. Short on wild tales from the rock ‘n’ roll road, this chronicle of their 1998 tour of the U.S. is an only occasionally interesting look at a rather ordinary bunch of musicians. Thesp Jason Priestley’s feature directorial debut will likely not have theatrical legs, but, thanks to the band’s newfound popularity in the States, will be a natural for music-themed TV outlets.

Pic chronicles the Toronto group’s tour of the U.S. following the release of their “Stunt” album, which contained the major hit “One Week.” Priestley gives a bird’s-eye view of the touring process, including virtually every aspect of a band’s life on the road — the afternoon sound check, pre-show joking in the dressing room, meeting with fans, life on the bus, the concerts themselves.

Docu does not concentrate on live footage, mostly using short segments of songs. Still, many of the Barenaked Ladies’ best-known tunes are in the pic, notably “Be My Yoko Ono” and “If I Had a Million Dollars.” Live scenes are mostly uninspired.

There are numerous in-depth interviews with all of the band members, with singer-guitarists Steven Page and Ed Robertson dominating the talk. One of the pluses here is that everyone in the band — which also includes bassist Jim Creeggan, drummer Tyler Stewart and keyboardist Kevin Hearn — sports a healthy sense of humor, a quality in short supply in the rock-musician milieu. They are usually happy to laugh at themselves, which gives a refreshingly light feel to much of the pic.

One of the more poignant segments relates the story of how Hearn was diagnosed with leukemia just as the group’s career was taking off Stateside. The sequence in which he returns to perform with the band is quite moving.

But Priestley doesn’t say anything particularly new about the Ladies. As close as the pic comes to a revelation is when one fan notes that “they look like guys you’d see working at the Gap,” which rather neatly sums up the band’s frat-house appeal. A number of Canadian entertainment industry bigwigs, including City-TV/MuchMusic honcho Moses Znaimer and Sarah McLachlan manager Terry McBride, talk extensively about the group’s success without offering many insights.

Priestley simply never delves too deep. For example, one of the more interesting aspects of the meteoric rise of the Ladies last year in the U.S. was that the American triumph came at a time when the band had slipped considerably in terms of home-turf popularity. This is not even mentioned in the film.

Priestley is pals with the musicians — he has directed musicvideos for them — and his lack of distance hurts the pic. There is nothing even remotely critical of the Barenaked Ladies in the docu, and as risque as it gets is a discussion of latenight, on-the-bus masturbation. Various celebrity interviews are just as innocuous, though John Stewart is consistently funny.

Tech credits are fine.

Barenaked in America

Production

A Nettfilms production. (International sales: Nettfilms, Vancouver.) Produced by Cheryl Teetzel. Executive producer, Pierre Tremblay. Directed by Jason Priestley.

Crew

Camera (color), Danny Nowak; editor, Al Flett; music, the Barenaked Ladies; sound, Bill Sheppard. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Real to Reel), Sept. 11, 1999. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

The Barenaked Ladies, John Stewart, Jason Priestley, Moses Znaimer, Terry David Mulligan, Conan O'Brien, Andy Richter.
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