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Review: 'Sample This' offers little insight into band's music

The unexpected success of last year's Oscar-winning "Searching for Sugar Man" has apparently opened the door to similar documentaries about unappreciated performers whose work finds second and third lives far from their original milieus.

One such beneficiary is director Dan Forrer's "Sample This," a meandering and dutiful chronology of how a bargain-bin album recorded by a short-lived session musicians band ended up defining the sound of early hip-hop. The documentary's first half exhaustingly traces the winding paths that led to the creation of Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band — like Robert F. Kennedy's assassination (the devastation led Viner to quit politics and enter the music business) — as well as the swift dissolution of the group when schizophrenic drummer Jim Gordon murdered his mother.

But the film offers disappointingly little insight into the music itself. Narrator Gene Simmons and his army of talking heads, including Questlove, explain how sampling came to exist but neglect to enlighten why the instrumental song "Apache" became the most sampled tune in hip-hop history.

And yet the documentary's most obvious wrong note is its fawning veneration of Viner, an Age of Aquarius also-ran (later turned audiobook mogul) who remains an enigma to the film's end. (Viner died shortly after Forrer began research for the documentary.) Like the failed album that inspired it, "Sample This" is only compelling in parts: It's the film equivalent of an earworm.


"Sample This"

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle's Noho 7, North Hollywood. Also on VOD.

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