Friday, September 19, 2008

Soundtrack Review: Chaos Theory

Composer Gilad Benamram's Henry Mancini styled score
excels at musical theory...
even if ultimately the soundtrack is a bit chaotic.


It’s ironic that the lyrics of The Damwells’ opening song “Golden Days” urge “baby, please don’t rush; keep the tempo slow” as this folksy and nostalgic, yet irresistible soft rock number stands for attributes which are the polar opposite of Chaos Theory’s lead character, Frank. While actor Ryan Reynolds’ Frank is an efficiency expert who lives by catchphrases such as “a specific list is a happy list,” it’s Frank’s supportive yet justifiably exasperated wife Susan (Emily Mortimer) who seems to take The Damwells’ advice to heart.

This is especially apparent when, shortly after the film begins, in order to get her husband to slow down, Susan mistakenly changes a clock the wrong way. Thus, instead of giving him more time to relax, her thoughtful yet erroneous action throw his life off-balance and the day ends with a series of misunderstandings and chance encounters. Trainer Frank

Now with his path thrown completely out of whack, Frank embraces the idea of chaos and tells his best friend Buddy (Stuart Townsend) that he’s “decided never to decide another thing again,” and to this end, he writes down everything he’d like to do on a series of cards, choosing one at random to guide his actions, which propels the rest of the film’s plot as you can see in the trailer.

Former music video director turned feature filmmaker Marcos Siega has proven in the past that he knows the right way to incorporate music into his work and the eclectic offerings available on the soundtrack to his latest film Chaos Theory are no exception. Although he reteams with his Pretty Persuasion scorer, the talented Israeli composer Gilad Benamram for Theory’s sixteen original works which are available on the compact disc, he opens with seven pop songs sure to grab hold of the listener.

And therefore it’s no wonder that he opts to begin with the strongest track by The Damnwells, who also contribute three other songs, including the sweet, yet forgettable, “Say” and “Graceless.” However, the group’s romantic and lyrically impressive “Tonight and Forever” makes a fitting closure to the album’s vocal inclusions before listeners venture further into Benamram’s score to relish in his extraordinarily colorful and sophisticated, playful selections.

Yet, it’s The Damwells that get the biggest boost off the contemporary tracks upfront, especially as Wikipedia reported, they came into the spotlight when the now engaged Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson appeared together as a couple at one of their concerts last fall. My favorite mainstream track was the extraordinary “Be Gentle With Me,” by indie UK artists, The Boy Least Likely To (which you can hear on their MySpace Page).

Employing bells to create a deceptively precious or — to quote the title — “gentle” feel, “Be Gentle With Me,” quickly turns into an infectious, hip and danceable track sure to put a smile on one’s face. ReynoldsThe type of song that instantly calls to mind the upbeat songs chosen for iTunes and Target ads. Upon further research, I was unsurprised to discover that the song has been used in several television shows, commercials, and promotional videos for everything from One Tree Hill to Grey’s Anatomy to Juno

as well as the fashion chain The Limited.

Like “Golden Days,” it’s the type of song you’ll instantly want to download, but it’s in the inventive and creatively bold arrangement that first hooks you from the start. Although I disagree with the band’s self-labeled style “country disco,” I couldn’t agree more with their Rolling Stone Magazine confession of likening their sound to what would happen “if all your childhood stuffed animals got together and started a band.”

In fact, given the enormous potential for repeat listens of “Be Gentle With Me,” it’s fairly easy to overlook the next two tracks, the faster drum based, bar band like “Calypso Slide,” by Walking Concert and the adult contemporary, easy listening feel of “You Fall Off,” by Gingersol which sort of sounded like what would have happened if the Wallflowers had had church choir training, with lyrics lamenting that they “won’t keep taking; faith you’re trading.”

composerAnd while the original, radio-friendly tracks are a bit forgettable, aside from the aforementioned standouts, Chaos Theory’s composer Gilad Benamram introduces us to his style with the mischievous, whimsical tone of his opening number “Back Door Exits.” Immediately grabbing our attention, he steps the quality up several notches, taking us on an auditory trip down memory lane by sliding right into the next three remarkable numbers “Careful Frank,” “My Wife, The Movies,” and “Five Minutes Efficiency Trainer.”

While together, they make a remarkable triple threat or — to pay homage to another 3 Togetherhockey themed track — “Streak Ice,” a hat-trick, on their own, they’re quite remarkable. Beginning with the sultry and sweeping 1960’s cocktail lounge styling of “Careful Frank,” Benamram seems to draw inspiration from the old Sinatra standard “Young At Heart,” before he builds up the anticipation with the frantic plucking of strings until other instruments join into his larger, orchestral based and jazz influenced “My Wife The Movies.”

And while, on a first listen, these pieces did sound vaguely familiar, it wasn’t until it bridged into “Five Minutes Efficiency Trainer,” that I was able to place Benamram’s most overwhelming influence to the undeniable genius of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Pink Panther scorer Henry Mancini with Benamram’s homage to one of the greatest and most sophisticated comedic composers.

Unfortunately, these three tunes proved to be the standout, as the rest of the album all seemed to suffer the all-too-familiar fate of movie soundtracks. Specifically with clips that are far too short to seduce. Instead of reeling us in, Chaos Theory eventually flows together into amiable, unchallenging, background music which serves the feel of the movie but doesn’t provide an overly satisfying listening experience for soundtrack buyers. Although this being said, when Benamram swings, he really swings and I applaud his courage for refusing to phone in a simple, innocuous, romantic comedy score.

And those who are interested in the medium will definitely want to take note of those incredibly promising tracks, which may send you clicking over to Amazon to discover more by the composer, or at the very least — in spite of their Bart Simpson like under-achieving name — trying to track down other selections from The Boy Least Likely To. So therefore in the end, when it comes to analyzing Chaos Theory, those are the boys who are most likely to succeed after all.

Best Buy Co, Inc.