Devastation and abandonment in the wake of suicide haunt Erica Dunton's downbeat road movie, "The 27 Club."

Devastation and abandonment in the wake of suicide haunt Erica Dunton’s downbeat road movie, “The 27 Club.” Joe Anderson (“Across the Universe”) turns in an intense, anguished performance as the left-behind half of a successful rock duo. Hiring a hick supermarket checkout boy as driver, the grieving musician takes off on a cross-country trek, soon joined by a hitchhiking Irish colleen. Though consistently maintaining a wryly observed interaction between the motley, convertible-bound threesome, the pic fails to get much mileage out of encounters along the way. Nevertheless, a solid musical base and tie-in with Kurt Cobain-type self-destruction could score with niche auds.

When his adopted brother/partner/best friend Tom (James Forgey) voluntarily, if unexpectedly, joins the “27 Club” (the pop culture term for celebrated musicians who expire at that unnatural age include Brian Jones, Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Cobain), Elliot (Anderson), the surviving co-leader of the fictional rock band Finn, loses his moorings.

As in her “Find Love” about a white-hot 24-hour romance, writer-director Dunton displays a light touch with strong emotional impulses that defy social norms. Elliot sits for long minutes in the morgue with red-rimmed eyes berating his lifelong buddy’s corpse for leaving him bereft.

Dunton proves equally adept at establishing, through short flashbacks a remarkably convincing musical backstory for the two, from early boyhood musical noodlings to scenes of on-stage fame showcasing original songs composed and performed by Forgey and Anderson.

On the other hand, Dunton reveals virtually nothing of the car’s other occupants, beyond that the chauffeur (David Emrich, both actor and persona imported wholesale from “Find Love”) hails from a clan of matching-outfitted dorks and the girl, Stella (Eve Hewson, U-2′s Bono’s daughter), comes from Ireland.

Stella instantly deduces Elliot’s identity, but keeps mum. Instead, she names the driver Three Words, discovering in his speech a triplicate pattern that grants him a special rhythm. Their chummy romance allows Elliot the freedom to participate or not in the social exchanges in the car.

But aside from a slight tension about whether he will be recognized by locals, Elliot’s interactions are lacking in the ethnographic richness of classic road movies like “Two-Lane Blacktop” or “Five Easy Pieces.”

Elliot’s one significant encounter, with an alcoholic bum (Jimmy Hager) who introduces him to the real-life “Down by the Wayside” choir of the homeless, comes off as staged.

Stephen Thomson’s widescreen lensing reinforces the pic’s main dynamic, increasingly pulling Elliot out of the multimedia past into an unfolding present.

The 27 Club

Production

A Bystander Films presentation of a 3 Words production. Produced by Chiara Trento, Erica Dunton. Executive producer, William J.B. Brady. Co-producers, Susan Carpenter, Les Frank. Directed, written by Erica Dunton.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Stephen Thompson; editor, Olivier Bugge Coutte; music, Michael Tremante; production designer, Chad Keith; costume designer, Susan Oliver; sound, Jeff Babb, Alex Markowitz. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Discovery), April 27, 2008. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Joe Anderson, David Emrich, James Forgey, Eve Hewson, Jimmy Hager, Alexie Gilmore, Kyle Luker.

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