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Movies

'Unfinished Song' plays a cute refrain

BY ROGER MOORE
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Published:   |   Updated: July 5, 2013 at 03:48 PM

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"Unfinished Song" is a cute British senior singers dramedy all-too-obviously inspired by the 2007 American documentary "Young@Heart." Round up some adorable retirees - "Old Age Pensioners, or O.A.P.'s," the Brits call them. Put them in tie-dyed T-shirts, teach them "The Robot" and let them croon through "Love Shack," "Let's Talk About Sex" and "Maybe (I'm Crazy)" in between deaths, health crises and the like.

It's so impish and feel-good you want to pinch its cheeks and tell it "Aren't you precious?" Which it is.

Thank heaven for the presence of Terence Stamp, the original General Zod from "Superman" and one of the legends of the British screen. All this bubbliness all around him and all Stamp's character, Arthur Harris, can do is grouse and scowl with his best villainous glare.

Arthur indulges his wife's membership in a seniors' chorus, The "O.A.P.Z." He stands outside and smokes while Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) sings and socializes and prepares for her big solo. Arthur, his son notes, is careful not to "enjoy himself." Can't have that.

But Marion is failing, fast. She knows her man is just "a puffed-up pigeon." He reserves all his tenderness for her - instinctively reaching for her hand, tirelessly defending her from the strain of all this rehearsal.

"You going to give me a kiss?" she teases. "Might not wake up tomorrow."

And one day, she doesn't.

"Unfinished Song" is about Arthur, his put-upon mechanic son (Christopher Eccleston) and Marion's choir director, the relentlessly upbeat Elizabeth, cheerfully played by Gemma Arterton, all freckles and smiles. Everybody here has taken on the job of getting Arthur through this, no matter what he wants.

Stamp, given a rare lead (rent "The Limey" sometime), shines in every scene - screwing up his face with impatient fury at every perceived slight, melting in Redgrave's presence, visibly deflating with resignation at Marion's collapse. He and Eccleston set off sparks as the judgmental dad and the judged son.

And Arterton has a nice vulnerability, stripped of much of her inherent sexiness for this part.

But the script is a real groaner, with contradictory character traits (loner Arthur has a group of mates he plays dominoes with) and abrupt leaps in the nature of relationships. The dialogue could have withstood a snarky going-over, too. If you're going cute and cranky, the insults and zingers should be zippier.

"Unfinished Song" manages a tear or two, and enough laughs to get by - even if from first scene to last, the strain to stop just short of cloying shows.

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