Shout is Nothing to Shout About
Originally published in The Occidental newspaper, October 11, 1991
Somewhere between Footloose and Dead Poets Society lies Shout, a new film directed by Flashdance choreographer Jeffrey Hornaday and starring John Travolta, Heather Graham (Drugstore Cowboy) and newcomer James Walters in the leading role of Jesse. Unfortunately, Shout has neither the fresh energy that Footloose brought to the screen nor the depth of Dead Poets Society. Shout merely carries with it the seemingly endless baggage of all the previous formula pictures about rebellion and the liberating nature of rock ‘n roll.
Shout is the story of a teenage orphan rebel Jesse Tucker, who is trapped in a boy’s home in the middle of nowhere in the ’50s. A music teacher named Cabe, played by Travolta, comes to the home to prepare the boys to perform in the Fourth of July celebration and ends up opening their eyes and ears to the sounds of rock ‘n roll.
Thrown into the equation is Sara, played by Heather Graham, a college girl who has returned from school for the summer. She is the daughter of Mr. Benedict, the authoritarian director of the boys’ home. At first repelled by the smartass Jesse, Sara ends up falling for him. Her character is uninteresting and spends much of the film lo0king beautiful, flipping her hair and looking soft and genteel in contrast to the sweating group of dirty boys who spend their days digging, putting in fence posts, chasing chickens and lusting after her.
The story proceeds to tell the tale of the infectiousness of rock ‘n roll, the liberating nature of the music and the freedom of its lifestyle. Travolta’s character has a shady past but a big heart that manages to bring together a group of high-strung boys as they find self-determination and direction in this “new” music called rock ‘n roll.
It seems like a fine enough premise for a film, but, unfortunately three minutes into it you realize you’ve seen it all before. The predictability of this film is so high I could’ve told you that Sara and Jesse were going to get together the minute they looked at each other. Even so, predictability is not the main problem. Oh, if only there were but one or two problems with this film. I could try to overlook the minor disturbances, like the corny music which crescendoed when any pair of lips touched another’s, or the disastrous editing wich managed to screw up even the simplest of love scenes. But I could not overlook the utter lack of realism, which managed to destroy any hopes of a decent film.
First of all, if this is actually a film about the birth of rock ‘n roll, I never would have known by the music. I may not know much about music, but I do know that early rock ‘n roll had a rawness to it, an edge that you could feel in the beat. In this film, all the so-called early rock ‘n roll sounded as refined as most things you hear today. When the group of boys follow Cabe to a nightclub on the “other side of the tracks” to listen to real rock ‘n roll, the group on stage is a pop group called Womack and Womack (in real life). Let me assure you, this group is the farthest thing from rock ‘n roll. The soundtrack is just as bad. This film isn’t a tribute to the early days of rock ‘n roll—it’s an insult to it.
At least I was looking forward to the dancing. This film promises dancing by billing it as being directed by the choreographer of Flashdance and A Chorus LIne: The Movie. The only dancing that takes place in this film, however, is in the one nightclub that we see in one scene and the only shots of dancing we see are from the waist down. I saw more shots of panties in this film than in all of the Porkys films rolled into one. Truly lackluster.
After all of this disappointment, I wanted to enjoy James Walters, the hot newcomer who Universal is touting to be the next big star. Walter’s sex appeal, which Universal is counting on, is evident from the first frame. Jesse spends most of his screen time doing punishment such as digging ditches or extra pushups, so he is extra sweaty and dirty. His character spends the film either pouting for the camera or rebelling, like stealing Benedict’s truck and ringing the town’s church bell for the apparent sheer fun of it. His acting talent is minimal, but I am quite sure that Universal is counting on his looks, not his talent, to bring in the bucks.
There is a group of boys that is quite charming in this film, much like the group in Dead Poets Society—a group that you end up wishing the film had focused on, instead of the dull, cardboard characters that dominate the screen time. Jesse’s character is never likable and I found myself just not caring about anyone in this film, except the minor characters.
Travolta’s character suffers under the same burden as the screenplay: it just doesn’t know where it’s going. One minute he’s encouraging the boys to get to know rock ‘n roll because it’s so liberating and it’s the sound of the future, and the next minute he’s giving up, turning his back on the same boys he seemed to be devoted to previously.
Part of Travolta’s and newcomer Walter’s problems are the inane dialogue they are given to say. When Sara and Jesse have a quiet moment together, she looks in his eyes and says “Would you like to kiss me?” And when Sara and Jesse argue, he makes a comment regarding the fact that she is Benedict’s daughter and her exciting line is “Well, I’m not my father, Jesse.” Finally, when Jesse is pleading with Cabe to not give up, he says “Fight ’em. I’ll help.” Powerful stuff.
These characters are so lifeless it’s painful to watch. The screenplay is so unoriginal that there is even one pivotal scene that is filmed exactly like one scene in Dead Poets Society—the one where the boys approach their teacher and beg to be let in on the secret of the society. The boys in Shout do the same thing, begging Travolta’s character to give them the scoop on this new music they heard coming from his room. This scene was even choreographed like the Dead Poets Society scene.
The only way I can describe what I felt while watching this film is “Why?” I just cannot understand the purpose of this picture. In the end, it just seems like a vehicle for the new hunk on the block, James Walters. Why John Travolta took this role is beyond me. The incongruities in this film are out of control, from the modern music coming out of the radios to the sudden plot lines. Shout is just poor filmmaking, from the editing to the directing, to the acting to the writing. It is the kind of film that you believe had to get better as it does along, because nothing could be this bad. Shout is that bad.