The tale of the almost-was. It's a rock tale as old as the art form. It's a long story of missed opportunities, spates of bad luck, and perhaps some epically dunderheaded decisions, but every still-aspiring-after-30-years rock band can likely take you on a long trip of how they nearly became the biggest band in the world, and how fame just barely slipped from their grasp. Heck, in 2008, a documentary film was made about the Canadian metal band Anvil, and it traces how they just never caught on until in recent years, when they struck a chord in Japan.
This is the story of Nick Hamm's film Killing Bono, recently released on home video, which traces the never-quite-there career of a hardworking and talented Irish rock band Shook Up (http://realshookup.com/). You haven't heard of them. They never cut an album when they formed back in the early 1980s. They never had a hit. They never toured America. Shook Up always felt they were destined for rock greatness, but were stuck in a position of their music constantly being upstaged by a more popular Irish rock group made up of their old school chums. That band was U2.
This is a true story, by the way. Neil and Ivan McCormick did indeed go to school with Paul Hewson and David Evans, later known as Bono and The Edge. The teenage Paul wanted Ivan as part of the band (then called The Hype), but Neil declined on his behalf. How was Neil to know that Paul was to form U2, and go on to make bazillions of dollars? The McCormicks went to London and spent years trying to land a contract, a gig, anything, really, but never actually made it. To this day, they haven't achieved rock fame, although Ivan still works as a professional musician.
Killing Bono turns their somewhat tragic plight and Neil's series of bad decisions into a rather enchanting comedy. Neil is played by Ben Barnes, whom I had previously seen as the dashing Prince Caspian, and I never realized how funny he was. His performance proves what a charming goof the man is, and he makes the ambitious but churlish Neil into an almost sympathetic character. Almost. It's hard to feel bad for the guy when you learn that he dealt with a mobster, that he turned down a chance to open for post-world-fame U2, and that he slept with the record producer's wife at just the wrong point in his would-be career. As Ivan, Robert Sheehan seems like a wounded puppy, constantly being pulled along by his brother's ambitious and often ill-advised decisions. Also keeping Shook Up from succeeding was a spate of bad luck. The man who promised them a contract got fired before they had a chance to sign the actual piece of paper. They also had the ill fortune to book a gig the same day as Live Aid. And a pope's visit. And the day John Lennon got shot.
Their resentment of U2 may seem foolish; surely they should just love the music they play, right? Existing so close in U2's orbit, however, they can only think of the life they almost had. Ivan especially.
Killing Bono is almost sweet. We've all seen the rise-to-fame story, and Hamm keeps things brisk and funny, and doesn't bog down the narrative with pathos. Neil's ultimate decision to try and kill Bono – partly inspired by Mark David Chapman, but mostly due to an inflated sense of envy, brought on by desperation and drink – is actually seen as something that could never happen. Neil is no criminal. You are not mis-remembering rock history. No one has ever tried to gun down Bono. The film is light, fun and sweet, and is a must-see for any teenagers out there who are dreaming of starting a band. Do teenagers still dream of being in rock bands anymore? Maybe not.
This film marked the final appearance of Pete Postlethwaite, who died in January of last year. He plays the mincing landlord of the boys' loft, and he is, as he always is, wonderful.
The DVD extras are the barest of the bare. There is a trailer and a 20-minute behind-the-scenes documentary with the usual interviews. They do feature the real Neil and Ivan in the documentary, but they are asked very little. It's pretty much included to watch the pretty young actors goofing around on set. It adds to the charm of the film, but little else.
CraveOnline Rating (Film): 8 out of 10
CraveOnline Rating (DVD): 3 out of 10.