- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

The first thing you should know about singer-songwriter and occasional guerrilla filmmaker Neil Young’s “Greendale” is that it’s barely a movie. It is a string of glorified video clips that accompany each of the 10 songs on the album of the same name.

As on “Greendale” the CD, there’s a thread of a narrative running through “Greendale” the movie. It takes place in the fictional coastal hamlet of Greendale, Calif., where Grandpa (Ben Keith) and Grandma Green (Elizabeth Keith) are whiling away retirement.

Their front-porch twilight is upended when cocaine-dabbling nephew Jed Green (Eric Johnson) kills a local cop during a routine traffic stop.

The FBI and the media pounce on the Greens’ ranch, panicking Grandpa into a fatal heart attack and sending granddaughter Sun Green (Sarah White) into a frenzy of enviro-activism.

What started as a loose concept to glue together a perfectly fine album’s worth of minimalist Crazy Horse rock songs here becomes a full-blown, overworked vehicle for screwy polemics and funhouse gags.

If the photography weren’t so grainy, there’d be little in “Greendale” to call arty. No one acts very much. The movie is sort of like a game of charades, but with a soundtrack.

Mr. and Mrs. Keith lip-sync to Mr. Young’s lyrics and pull faces; Mr. Johnson doubles as an air-guitar-playing devil character with fedora and red suede shoes; Mr. Young himself appears as a carnie version of Wayne Newton.

It’s hard to see what points Mr. Young thinks the film is making that the album doesn’t. From the “Greendale” LP, it’s plenty clear that Mr. Young is concerned about media sensationalism and overexposure. He’s worried about the ecosystem. He’s not fond of big business. He thinks the federal government is pulling a Big Brother again. Fine.

Are these points made any more salient by a cast of nonactors jumping excitedly to the eco-anthem “Be the Rain”?

I don’t think so, and I’m not sure Mr. Young does, either.

“Greendale” is not so much a vanity project as it is a why-not project. He’d already put out a DVD concert of the “Greendale” song cycle, with these same role players pantomiming behind him. “Greendale” the feature film is a logical extension of that.

But it’s not clear to me why this, too, couldn’t have gone straight to DVD.

Look on the bright side: The Neil Young faithful will be the only ones who rouse themselves to see this movie, and nine bucks at the box office is cheaper than a DVD.

Not even they will want to sit through it more than once.

*1/2

TITLE: “Greendale,” exclusively at Landmark’s E Street Cinema

RATING: No MPAA rating (Some profanity; drug references; mild violence)

CREDITS: Written, directed, photographed and edited by Neil Young (aka Bernard Shakey and Toshi Onuki). Produced by Eric Johnson. Music performed by Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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