Rock ‘n’ roll and its legendary characters have always been a tempting subject for filmmakers, but rare is the non-documentary that adds anything to the music. Great Balls of Fire! is no exception. It’s a thin, cartoonish treatment of the hellbent, musically energetic young Jerry Lee Lewis.
Full-bore performance by Dennis Quaid as the kinetic piano-pumper stops at surface level, and 108 minutes of his gum-cracking smirks and cock-a-doodle-doo dandyism are hard to take.
Pic focuses on the years 1956-59, when Lewis’ career took off with the provocative hit ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ and was nearly destroyed by his marriage to 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gayle Brown (Winona Ryder), which shocked British fans and cut short his first overseas tour.
Mixed up in the Memphis milieu are the presence of Elvis Presley, who preceded Lewis at Sun Studios; Jimmy Swaggart, Lewis’ Bible-thumping cousin; and the heady, devilish allure of the jumpin’ black juke joints from which Lewis lifts his best music.
Script is based on a book by Myra Lewis and is by-the-numbers, suffering from a lack of grace or metaphor and relying on cash and flash as character motivations.