Picks and Pans Review: Swing Kids
Robert Sean Leonard, Christian Bale, Barbara Hershey
For all its heart (and politics) being in the right place, and some dazzling dance and music sequences, Swing Kids is really little more than Hamburg, 90210. If you are 15, it may be deeply meaningful, but to anyone older it will seem like a simplistic historical drama tarted up with a heavy dose of teen angst.
The story concerns a group of German teenagers living in Hamburg in 1939 who show their disdain for the Nazis by embracing American swing music, which has been banned because so many of its performers are Jewish or black. The worse the Nazis get, the wilder the kids' jitterbugging becomes. Yeah, that'll really show 'em. All that's missing is someone saying, "Hey, gang, let's put on a show and really teach Adolf who's boss!"
The basic problem is Jonathan Marc Feldman's heavy-handed script, which substitutes archetypes (the principled youth, the emotional weakling, the noble cripple) for believable characters. Credit director Thomas Carter, an Emmy-winning TV veteran (Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice) making his feature-film debut, with at least getting individual scenes to work, particularly the exuberant dance numbers. Also impressive is Leonard as the lead teen and Kenneth Branagh in an unbilled cameo as a smarmy Nazi official. Much of the rest of the cast, though, emotes with the sort of sincerity actors indulge in when they know this isn't just a movie, it's a cause. (PG-13)
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