ALAN PARKER'S "The Commitments" is two hours long but you won't notice. The film travels so fast and with such comic brilliance that it gives the impression of ending too soon.
Parker is the man who did "Mississippi Burning," "Fame," "Bugsy Malone" and "Come to the Paradise." He is a director who has never hesitated to tackle something different. If, in this case, he returns to a form he has already worked to great advantage ("Fame"), he is easily forgiven.
"The Commitments" will remind some of "Fame," and Parker is aware of that. He knows the comparison will be made, so he has one of his characters do a line from one of the songs in "Fame."
The movie is set in present-day north Dublin, which, according to some of the principals, is not the most attractive part of the city. Some of this Dublin looks Third World in the film, an observation made by one of the movie's leading characters, Jimmy.
Jimmy (Robert Arkins) is a young man who wants to create a band, not a rock 'n' roll band, not a heavy metal band, but a band that returns to soul, the musical form that prevailed in the '60s, before it was supplanted by acid rock and heavy metal.
Jimmy has a vision. He wants to capture the sound of Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison, Wilson Pickett, Procol Harum and Joe Cocker. He also wants to escape his environment. He has twin sisters who always speak in unison, a grandmother who still bleaches her hair and a father who thinks that Elvis Presley was the greatest thing to grace this planet. If he could, he would have the man canonized. Presley's picture is in the family living room, above a picture of the pope.
One of the film's many riches is its wealth of characters. Another is its humor, some of which flies by so fast the viewer is in danger of missing it.
The humor is never forced, however. Everything about this film is easy, if compressed. Pay close attention to the four little girls, bus riders who look blankly at the boys who are singing aboard their bus. Look closely (though this is hardly subtle) at the reaction to an infant startled by the volume of the music.
Equally amusing is the fighting that goes on between the members of the band, none of whom is sensitive to the feelings of others.
"The Commitments" is so full of comic bits it might be worth it to see the film twice, to pick up on those things missed the first time. There is a marvelous gag about a horse and an elevator, one that may remind you of Bill Forsyth ("Local Hero"). There are, in fact, quite a number of times when the film plays like "Local Hero," and that is not in any way meant to diminish this film.
Hollywood watchers are saying the movie musical is coming back. Actually, it never died. It just took on a different form, and "The Commitments" is another example of that form. Music is an integral part of the film. There is much of it, between and supporting the dialogue, and it all sounds very good, particularly when Andrew Stone, as the lead singer, does "Try a Little Tenderness" as Cocker might have done it.
Stone swears he is 16. He looks about 36. Both he and his talent are immense, but then there isn't a weak player in the bunch, all of whom were not into music as a profession.
"The Commitments" opens here today. Put it down as one of the best films of the year, but keep in mind that it is basically a musical.
**** A group of young people form a rock-soul band in Dublin.
CAST: Robert Arkins, Michael Aherne, Angeline Ball, Marie Doyle, Dave Finnegan, Bronagh Gallagher
DIRECTOR: Alan Parker
RATING: R (language, sex)
RUNNING TIME: Two hours