The Crossroads Kid
The blues ain't nothin' but a good man feelin' bad, thinkin' 'bout the woman he once was with - Willie Brown
Although studying classical music at Julliard, talented young guitarist Eugene Martone's (Ralph Macchio - The Karate Kid) real passion is for the blues especially the blues of legendary musician Robert Johnson. Despite the disapproval of his mentors at his choice of inferior music, Eugene tracks down Willie Brown (Joe Seneca - Silverado), a harmonica player who had once played with Johnson and convinces him that he has the ability to be a great blues guitarist. Together they set out hiking their way down to Mississippi where Eugene hopes to discover some lost tracks that Johnson penned. But unbeknown to him, Willie has an old score to settle that has been haunting him for years, ever since he sold his soul to the devil in trade for becoming the best harp player in the world.
For a movie which on paper looks like it has a rather strange fantasy storyline and of somewhat limited appeal, "Crossroads" starring Ralph Macchio and Joe Seneca is a remarkably enjoyable movie with a much greater appeal than initially presumed. The simple reason for this is that it combines two of Hollywood's favourite storylines with great effectiveness but puts them in a situation which is a complete change to where they are usually used.
Firstly we have the master pupil element of "Crossroads", an element that star Ralph Macchio is more than familiar with as it was the one which was the driving force behind "The Karate Kid", the film which raised his celebrity profile. In this case we see Macchio's character once again taking on the role of the pupil as he learns the ways of a true bluesman from his teacher, Willie Brown. Despite the unoriginality of this element not once do you feel bored, as placing this familiar scenario within the confines of the musical world, in particular that of the blues feels very fresh. Yes it may have the equivalent of the famous wax on wax off scenes from "The Karate Kid", where the young scholar is learning the ropes without really knowing it, but they are not overly cliché and remain enjoyable if a little predictable.
The second staple Hollywood element which makes up this enjoyable drama is one that is usually confined to sports movies, where a happy ending depends on who wins the big fight at the end of the movie, as per all the "Rocky" movies and countless others. But again taking this element away from its familiar setting and placing it in a scenario where we see our young apprentice bluesman take on the Devils finest guitarist is fresh, if not a little bit far fetched for some. In a way it is this side of "Crossroads" which will either make or break the film for most viewers due to the fact that it seems to slope off into the realms of fantasy. But for those who are aware of the famous bluesman Robert Johnson who legend has it sold his soul to the devil in return for becoming the world's greatest blues guitarists, it is a fitting homage. Plus for those who are drawn to "Crossroads" due to it heavily featuring the guitar will delight in watching a musical duel between the character of Eugene and the devils finest Jack Butler, played by rock guitarist Steve Vai.
Add to these two sizeable story elements a romance between Eugene and another traveller, Frances played by the feisty Jami Gertz and you have what maybe an overly stereotypical movie but one which is fresh and interesting due to the unusual setting it is placed in. What also adds to the appeal is that "Crossroads" moves along at an enjoyable pace never dwelling overly long on anything or feeling repetitive within the scenes where are young guitarist is learning the ropes. At just over an hour and a half the film makers have got it spot on when it comes to the length and any longer would have caused it to feel drawn out.
It seems that Ralph Macchio's success as the pupil in the "The Karate Kid" lead to a bit of type casting in "Crossroads" but to be honest he puts in a reasonable and enjoyable performance. It is definitely not a brilliant performance and a little rough around the edges, but this roughness works well making his character feel more real. The disappointment comes through the fact that his character although the main focus is never really built upon and he is still the same nervous kid at the end of the movie as he was at the start.
Although Macchio is obviously meant to be the top draw for in "Crossroads", it is the performance of Joe Seneca as Willie Brown which really shines out above everyone else. His character could easily have come across as over the top and unbelievable but Seneca plays him with such realism that at times you feel that you are standing right there next to him mesmerized by his tales of an era long forgotten. Although "Crossroads" also has performances from Jami Gertz (The Lost Boys), Robert Judd and Steve Vai to name just a few, the film devotes most of its screen time to the performances of Ralph Macchio and Joe Seneca and between them they do a great job of making "Crossroads" interesting and enjoyable.
Whilst the engaging storyline and interesting characters are more than enough to make this film entertaining, it is the absolutely amazing "Crossroads" soundtrack which really lifts this film above so many others. I may be a bit biased due to my love of the blues and guitar music, but with Ry Cooder providing the majority of the soundtrack it is an absolute treat. His masterfully crafted pieces help take you on the journey into the deep south and at times you feel like you have been transported back to the 30s when Robert Johnson himself was alive and playing this sweet music. Add to these, two pieces which involve the collaboration of rock guitarist Steve Vai and you have a great mix of guitar both new and old.
What this all boils down to is that despite being over 20 years old, "Crossroads" is still as enjoyable today as it was when it first came out. In fact it is one of a rare breed of films that despite their age show no signs of becoming dated. What is a shame is that it is not that well known and for those who are aware of it, the majority will have not given it a second look due to the fact that it looks like it has limited appeal. In fact it is a better film than many expect, with a decent plot which takes two of Hollywood's favourite storylines and uses them in a new setting whilst also delivering decent performances from its cast. But the real star of the show for many is the brilliant soundtrack which really helps set the atmosphere.
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