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Def Leppard movie no ‘Rock of Ages’

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I remember getting angry at Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen back in 1985.

Earlier that year, Allen was drunk when he lost his arm in a car accident while drag racing on an English country road.

I was a struggling musician then, with dreams of the success that had come to Def Leppard. The band had three platinum albums under its belt and had completed a successful 16-month tour. They had everything, and Allen had taken it all for granted.

I remember getting so mad that I threw my Def Lep tapes away.

Last Tuesday night, I got angry again.

I watched "Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story," which will premiere on VH1 Wednesday, July 18, at 7 p.m. But my anger wasn't aimed at Allen. Instead, I set my sights on director Robert Mandel and producer Patricia Clifford. They're responsible for this lame original VH1 movie.

If the film weren't based on a real band, I'd swear it was supposed to be the sequel to Rob Reiner's 1984 mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap."

There were overcontrolling girlfriends, clueless musicians who live for nothing but sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, in-studio tiffs, and fights, and death.

The movie reduces Def Leppard to one-dimensional caricatures. Lead-singer Joe Elliott (Orlando Seale) is the heartless, motivated dictator. Allen (Tat Whalley) is the determined one-armed drummer. "Steamin' " Steve Clark (Karl Geary) is the insecure alcoholic guitar wiz. Phil Collen (Esteban Powell) is the talented, guitar-slinging philosopher. And bassist Rick "Sav" Savage (Adam MacDonald) is the quiet, normal one.

Even original guitarist Pete Willis (Nick Bagnall) is just another party-loving guitarist who gets the obligatory ousting — a la the Beatles' Pete Best.

The only strong presence is producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange (Michael Anthony Hall), who was instrumental in molding the band's multiplatinum albums "High 'n' Dry," "Pyromania" and "Hysteria." Hall's Lange is quick to the point and is immediately accepted as the band's mentor, even more than manager Peter Mensch (Dean McDermott), who maybe has four lines of dialogue in the two-hour film.

Another problem is that the movie is too ambitious. It opens with the car accident that claims Allen's arm and then rewinds to Sheffield, England, 1977, where Elliott meets Willis after missing a bus home from his tool-working factory job, and ends with a comeback concert in support of "Hysteria." Never mind the other albums that followed — "Adreanalize," "Slang" and "Euphoria."

The film doesn't address the fact that the band respelled its name because too many punk rockers were drawn to the name Deaf Leopard. And it glosses over the fact that Clark's father was, like Elliott, a critical dictator. (Although there is a scene in the hospital where the doomed guitarist tells Allen that alcohol rids mind of his father's voice.)

Which brings us to the drinking binges. Clark and Collen are reduced to the stereotypical "party-on" surfer-dude losers. (Which is stupid because Def Leppard is an English band). That's a major disservice, since Clark eventually lost his life to his drinking in 1991. While the film tries to show Clark's downward spiral, it misses the mark and loses its impact.

Def Leppard's history could be fodder for a heavy rock 'n' roll docudrama — all the ingredients are there: fame, fortune, tragedy, downfall and comeback. Too bad "Hysteria: the Def Leppard Story" is the best they can do.

E-mail: scott@desnews.com