Former disco queen Lisa Stansfield makes a solid thesping debut as an earthy jazz diva in this crowd-pleasing, tune-packed pic from Britain, where it recently opened (courtesy Entertainment Film). “Full Monty” star Hugo Speer, as a Liverpool retro-jazzer, could help launch “Swing” Stateside, although it remains to be seen whether the highly musical item will catch the nostalgia wave or get caught in its backwash.
Pic starts in prison, with Speer’s still-youngish Martin Luxford again ready to face the world after a two-year stint for a dumb robbery. Thanks to his kindly cellmate (corpulent Springsteen vet Clarence Clemons), he has learned to play the saxophone and his new dream is to put together a band devoted to ’40s jazz. Truth be told, he’s hoping this will hook him back up with his singing girlfriend, Joan (Stansfield), even though she ended up marrying the copper who put him away.
Adding to this sticky wicket are poor, less-than-supportive parents (Tom Bell , Rita Tushingham) and dodgy brother Liam (Paul Usher), who’s still looking for the kind of scams that already landed Martin in the nick.
Naturally, in time-honored Mickey Rooney tradition, the muso perseveres, even in the face of the ongoing joke that has every bunch of musicians in Liddypool pining to be the next Beatles, plus the consternation of Joan’s fascistic husband (Danny McCall) when she starts crooning “There Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” and “Blitzkrieg Baby.”
Martin also recruits a soccer-mad bassist (Scott Williams) and a skinhead drummer (James Hicks) fresh from gigs with the National Front. With the help of his Protestant uncle (in an otherwise Catholic family), he wangles the use of Orange Brigade brass section, led by the dark-suited Mighty Mac (an almost wordless Alexei Sayle).
There’s no explanation of how horn players from a religious-military marching band are able to punch out “Watch the Birdie” without even glancing at lead sheets, but that’s what makes this a musical. Helmer Nick Mead’s script isn’t exactly burdened by overt attention to detail. While the humor — even when it’s too parochial for many Americans — almost always works, the dramatic angle is padded out with unearned emotion. A reconciliation with Martin’s dour dad is too easy by half, and the sudden falling-out with his brother is just as phony.
If some of the dialogue comes up short, the atmospherics are mostly delightful. Offbeat Liverpool scenery is well exploited (interiors were largely shot in London), and the band scenes generally crackle with spontaneous energy, thanks to expert readings of music picked by supervisor Steve Dagger, who did similarly spot-on work for oldies-minded “Still Crazy.” Clemons does Speer’s sax solos.