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Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

TO BEGIN WITH full disclosure: I'm not the only person to claim to be the world's biggest Gram Parsons fan. But I am the world's biggest Gram Parsons fan.

I don't know if that means that I'm predisposed to judge ``Grand Theft Parsons'' too strictly or to give this pretty bad movie a minor pass for capturing, well, something of the country rock founder's beautiful spirit. The fact that the movie isn't really about Parsons, but rather the events immediately following his overdose death in a Joshua Tree motel room in 1973, probably put me in a forgiving mood, too. Whoever makes the real Gram Parsons had better do it right, or I'll be looking for them.

``Grand Theft'' is really about Phil Kaufman. Not the noted filmmaker, but a biker roadie who met Parsons through their mutual friends the Rolling Stones (``Wild Horses'' was about Gram's troubled relationship with his wife, Gretchen, in case you didn't know). Two months before Parsons finally succeeded in taking more drugs than he could handle, he and Kaufman had made a pact: The survivor would take the other's corpse to a favorite spot in the California desert and cremate it.

``Grand Theft'' recounts, with some fudging, Kaufman's comic-noble effort to burn his buddy's body. As played by Johnny Knoxville, Kaufman is a hard-drinking roustabout whose devotion to his mission represents some kind of personal redemption.

And he'll break any law or tell any lie to accomplish it. Since Parsons' remains were to be shipped back to his rich Southern family, Kaufman has to hijack the coffin. He tricks a hearse-owning hippie, Larry Oster-Berg (Michael Shannon), into helping him get the box out of an LAX cargo hangar. This leads to an extremely poky race back out to Joshua Tree, with both Gram's grieving father, Stanley Parsons (``Jackie Brown's'' Robert Forster, in a taciturn yet poignant performance), and two angry girlfriends, Gram's greedy Barbara (Christina Applegate) and Phil's fed-up Susie (Marley Shelton), in pursuit.

My fellow religionists will note that a few liberties have been taken. Stanley was Gram's despised stepfather and Barbara is some kind of stand-in for Gretchen, who for some reason never understood why her trust fund artist husband preferred getting high, cavorting with groupies and harmonizing with Emmylou Harris to her company.

But that's not what bugged me about the movie. The big problem is that screenwriter Jeremy Drysdale only partially knows how to write comic dialogue, and Irish director David Caffrey has no idea how to film it.

A good half of the film is Knoxville and Shannon sitting in the hearse, talking. The actors have their characters down. Yet their contentious repartee too often sounds like outtakes from a Cheech and Chong movie, mainly because Caffrey shows no inkling that dialogue requires a sense of timing.

Excepting Forster, the other characters are total washes - with one brief, emblematic exception: Gabriel Macht's fly-in as Gram's laid-back ghost. That grinning grievous angel represents the aspect of ``Grand Theft Parsons'' that can almost make you forgive all the film's flaws. One of Gram's goals in life was to bridge the wide, Vietnam-era cultural gulf between hippies and rednecks with a yearning music that both could appreciate. This movie has a conciliatory sweetness at its core that echoes that agenda - and which Parsons surely never enjoyed in his personal life.

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670



(PG-13: language, violence)

Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Michael Shannon, Christina Applegate, Robert Forster, Marley Shelton.

Director: David Caffrey.

Running time: 1 hr. 27 min.

Playing: One Colorado, Pasadena; Fairfax, L.A.

In a nutshell: Sweet but poorly made movie about the hijacking and burning of country rock icon Gram Parsons' corpse. Takes some liberties with the real story; nice soundtrack, though.
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Article Details
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Review
Date:Jun 18, 2004

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