Almost? Not Even.

Penny Lane grows up and looks kind of like her mom--no, her Sister

In The Banger Sisters Goldie Hawn plays Suzette, an aging groupie too stuck in a gloriously seedy past to move into the future. It's 2002, yet she acts as though it's 1969 and nothing's changed--not the Sunset Strip's Whisky A Go-Go, where she still tends bar behind sunglasses and illicit slugs of rum and Coke; not her augmented body, the surgically implanted breasts that make her chest look like twin zeppelins at takeoff; not the age of the boys she beds, or tries to before realizing they're too busy getting sucked to fuck. You might wonder, though, haven't we been here before? Is this some bad flashback or flash forward? Yes, actually: Hawn's daughter Kate Hudson played groupie (Band-Aid, pardon) Penny Lane two years before her 57-year-old mom stumbled down Amnesia Lane; this is the unofficial sequel to Almost Famous, picking up some 30 years after Cameron Crowe made a myth out of Cameron Crowe. And it's every bit the downer Crowe suggested at that film's end: Once the groupie has no one left to cling to, once her playmates are dead and touring in hell, all that's left is a hollow, decimated shadow.

Only writer-director Bob Dolman, a former writer for WKRP in Cincinnati(wait, maybe Hawn is just an updated Loni Anderson), has no interest in playing that tune; he's too glib to go for sad songs, too facile for deep funk. He's still writing sitcoms, only for the big screen; all that's missing is the laugh track to fill in the stale, dead air. What could and should have been a deep-felt rumination on aging--and Hawn, still preternaturally childish and lithe, almost exists as if to prove some people never dogrow older--is never more thoughtful than half-hour television. The Banger Sisters, populated by half a dozen characters whose issues deserve their own movies, wraps itself in such a tidy bow it strangles to death. Everyone, from the substance-abusing daughter (Traffic's Erika Christensen, throwing up where she left off) to the suicidal writer (Oscar fave Geoffrey Rush, deserving his own movie, a better one), has his problems resolved. You half expect a teaser for next week's episode as the closing credits crawl.

Suzette is a deeply pathetic caricature--Penny Lane without soul, a foul-mouthed specter trapped in the past. She can't stop talking about the good old days on the Strip, when she was lying beneath Jim Morrison in the Whisky's backroom; "Jim Morrison's a ghost, and so are you," says her boss before firing her, but she can't see his point through her shades. She'll never grow up, only out (this movie's fixated on Hawn's inflated tits; the camera can't stop leering at them, she can't stop talking about them). Broke and out of work, she drives to Arizona to bum money off her old running buddy Lavinia (the suddenly ubiquitous Susan Sarandon), now married to an attorney and mother of two daughters with their own troubles. But Lavinia has long since discarded her rock-and-roll past; she's respectable, bland, square--suburban, in other words, living out where good times go to die. If Suzette's frozen in the '60s, Lavinia's frozen in a block of ice.

But this being the movies and all, Suzette thaws out her old pal just in time for a night of drinking and dancing and thumbing through old photos of rock-star cocks ("That's Keith!") while smoking a decades-old joint. Suzette, plagued by seconds' worth of self-doubt, is force enough to free Lavinia from her domestic prison cell (imagine if Louise had turned the car around and become PTA president). One second she's lecturing Suzette about the need to be responsible; the next she's flinging dinner at her husband, guzzling wine from the bottle and pouring herself into yesterday's pleather pants. The only reflection taking place here is whenever Hawn and Sarandon pause to admire themselves in the mirror.

If Almost Famouswas Crowe's concept album, his fond farewell to the Sunset Strip '70s, then The Banger Sistersis a pallid collection of B-sides and studio outtakes; it has its moments, but they never add up to a record you'd want to play again and again in its entirety. There is a touching scene in which Lavinia's daughters can't stomach, much less fathom, the notion that their mother was a reckless free spirit when she was their age; they can't see her as anything other than drab disciplinarian, a beige nothing. But Dolman doesn't linger too long on this scene; he's in too much of a hurry to rush Suzette and Lavinia into a nightclub, where they dance to Talking Heads and flirt with boys young enough to be their sons. That's just way more fun than having grown women talk to each other like grown women.

 
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