Loosely inspired by an actual record-biz hoax, “Vinyl” is a genial underdog’s revenge comedy about some old punkers who fool the industry that’s forgotten them into promoting their new single — which they’ve disguised as a debut disc by a generic boy band. Lively and likable enough even if its satire (among other qualities) only cuts so deep, pic reps an uptick in the uneven track record of helmer Sara Sugarman (“Very Annie Mary”). Its U.K. fortunes could conceivably be boosted by getting the band’s single on the charts; elsewhere the pic will make an attractive home-format pickup.
In the 1980s, Welsh pop-punk outfit Johnny Jones and the Weapons of Happiness were a semi-big deal — opening for Buzzcocks and U2 on tour — and wrecking hotel rooms like real rock stars. But Johnny (Phil Daniels) is now a middle-aged stoner living in a trailer with a long-suffering g.f. (Julia Ford) who’s still waiting for him to grow up. Attending a mate’s funeral, he’s reunited with the other Weapons (Keith Allen, Jamie Blackley, Perry Benson). Despite some lingering grudges, a few lagers later they’re having an impromptu jam session that’s none too shabby.
Next morning, recorded evidence of that one-off is played. To everyone’s sobered shock, not only do they sound as good as ever, but they’ve cut a new song that could have been a punk classic. Smelling a comeback, Johnny hies to their old record label. But the young A&R guy now in place (James Cartwright) informs them that with tweens to 20s the only demographic that counts, they don’t sign anyone over 30; watching geezers perform, he adds, would be “like watching your parents have sex.”
So Johnny assembles a fake band — charismatic street busker Drainpipe (Jamie Blackley) plus four photogenic lip-synchers — drafts his ex-bandmates to coach these non-musicians, and unleashes some made-up hype that the press swallows whole. Soon “The Single Shots” are making TV appearances, with the Weapons’ undeniably catchy track “Free Rock ‘N Roll” racing up the charts. Naturally, the swindle hits some speed bumps.
Solid cast is game, and Sugarman clearly has affection for the material. (She was in bands herself, and has had a long acquaintance with Mike Peters, the real-life former lead singer of ’80s Welsh outfit the Alarm, which pulled off just such a stunt several years ago.) The script, co-written with Jim Cooper, is a bit on the formulaic side, with its brisk pace leaving little room to fully tap the potential for biz satire, character eccentricity and interpersonal conflict. Result is a breezy diversion that might have been expanded into something more memorable.
Assembly is modest, but colorful and energetic.