‘Beastie Boys’ no sure shot, but it’ll do

De­spite an unin­spir­ing frame­work by Jonze, the story re­mains grand

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Arts & Life - JAKE COYLE THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Lit­tle was pre­dictable about the Beastie Boys in their three-plus decades of mak­ing music. They were spon­ta­neous, al­ways evolv­ing, off-the-cuff pranksters who turned pro with­out ever los­ing the punch­line.

Even see­ing ahead to the end of a rhyme was im­pos­si­ble. Their lyrics took cir­cuitous, hys­ter­i­cal routes. “I’ll stir fry you in my wok/Your knees’ll start shakin’ and your fin­gers pop/Like a pinch on the neck of Mr. Spock.”

So why is “Beastie Boys Story,” a doc­u­men­tary of Mike Di­a­mond and Adam Horowitz’s staged show, so pre­dictable? “Beastie Boys Story,” which ar­rives Fri­day on Ap­ple TV-Plus, is billed as a “live doc­u­men­tary ex­pe­ri­ence.” And with Spike Jonze, who so mem­o­rably di­rected the Beastie Boys’ “Sab­o­tage” music video pre­sid­ing over both the theatre show and the film, one could rea­son­ably ex­pect — what­ever “live doc­u­men­tary” means — some­thing alive. Maybe even some­thing “off the hook like La­trell Sprewell” or pop­ping “like a pinch on the neck of Mr. Spock.”

And yet, “Beastie Boys Story,” while of­ten rol­lick­ing and mov­ing, fre­quently has the stale air of a Ted Talk, as Horowitz and Di­a­mond calmly walk the stage, read teleprompt­ers from stools, pause for fre­quent video in­serts and chrono­log­i­cally tell the story of their un­likely rise from down­town New York to hip-hop elite.

“Beastie Boys Story” was a tour­ing stage show that Horowitz (Ad-Rock) and Di­a­mond (Mike D) per­formed fol­low­ing the 2018 pub­li­ca­tion of their mas­sive mem­oir-scrap­book “Beastie Boys Book.” Over their three-night stand last year at Brook­lyn’s Kings The­ater, Jonze doc­u­mented it. Oc­ca­sion­ally, he’s heard (but not seen) in­ter­ject­ing from the booth.

Those few mo­ments, along with a hand­ful of other sly riffs (a mon­tage of their hard-work­ing “Check Your Head” club tour is scored to Dolly Par­ton’s “9 to 5”) sup­ply some of the de­con­struc­tion you’d ex­pect from the Beast­ies and Jonze. But, re­ally, much of this isn’t so dif­fer­ent than “Spring­steen on Broad­way,” only with more in­ter­jec­tions of “No joke!” and “That’s crazy!”

But one of the rich­est threads of the Beast­ies’ story is how they were so of­ten pro­pelled by im­pro­vi­sa­tion and goof­ing off. Their sopho­more al­bum, “Paul’s Bou­tique,” was a mash-up mas­ter­piece of end­less sam­pling and style mix­ing. When they rented a Hol­ly­wood house owned by Mar­i­lyn Grasshoff, her ’70s wardrobe be­came their trea­sure-trove of props. “Sab­o­tage,” they filmed with­out per­mits or much plan­ning. At their best, they just went out and made stuff, pulling from a wide spec­trum of sources and what­ever was around them.

“Beastie Boys Story,” though, is pol­ished legacy bur­nish­ing that doesn’t quite suit the rap­pers of “So What’cha Want” let alone “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party).” At times, it feels per­ilously close to the rough draft of a juke­box musical to come.

But if the frame­work is less in­spired, the story re­mains grand. Their arc is a spec­tac­u­lar one, start­ing as a wannabe punk band (“We were Monty Python as much as we were Black Flag,” one re­calls); be­ing moulded by Rus­sell Sim­mons into a cheap MTV act; pick­ing up in­stru­ments and tak­ing con­trol of their musical des­tiny; turn­ing from party an­thems to so­cially con­scious ac­tivism.

It’s a jour­ney not so un­like The Bea­tles or The Who, start­ing as a nov­elty act and turn­ing ar­tis­ti­cally ad­ven­tur­ous. “It’s not so much that we grew up. We wised up,” says Horowitz.

But where the Beastie Boys dif­fered most from the stan­dard music-star­dom cliche is in how tight they re­mained, broth­ers to the last — a per­pet­ual three­man weave with the comic tim­ing of

Moe, Larry and Curly. And it’s in the heart­felt re­mem­brances of Adam Yauch, the band’s musical and spir­i­tual leader, that “Beastie Boys Story” breaks into some­time more au­then­tic and mem­o­rable. Even the de­fi­cien­cies of the movie be­come a kind of trib­ute. Early on Mike D says it sim­ply: “The two of us will do the best we can be­cause one of us isn’t here.”

“Beastie Boys Story,” an Ap­ple TV Plus re­lease, is un­rated by the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica. Run­ning time: 119 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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