Barenaked in America

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Barenaked Ladies is the kind of eclectic, mostly tongue-in-cheek pop band that invariably gets labeled as “quirky.” Over the course of several albums during the ’90s, they became a huge act in their native Canada while remaining a distinctly minority taste in the United States — favored by those with a penchant for the mercifully small frat-boy wing of indie-dom while being loathed by more discerning listeners. (Critic Ira Robbins’ entry for them in the Trouser Press Guide is a classic of acidic disdain.)

Two years ago they finally cracked the larger American market with their album Stunt, scoring a No. 1 single with “One Week.” Barenaked in America, directed by the versatile Jason Priestley, is a documentary of their Stunt tour of the United States, following them as they bask in the first flush of genuine fame, traveling, as guitarist-vocalist Ed Robertson puts it, “through towns where people actually know who we are.”

Unlike last year’s Shooting Gallery rockumentary, Meeting People is Easy, which found the band Radiohead reacting to newfound success by remaining as discontented as ever, these guys are happy campers. They’re self-confessed entertainers first and foremost, as eager to please as performing seals and so damn cute you either want to pinch their cheeks or punch their lights out, depending on your tolerance for their manic show-biz antics.

One of these guys’ saving graces is their occasional self-awareness (the other is their talented bass player, Jim Creeggan) — after all, they did name their album Stunt. And they know how to use humor to “shroud your intentions,” and that the new stage paraphernalia that comes with more money adds up to “all that retarded stuff.” But despite a few moments of insight, most of the interview segments consist of standard rock-magazine boilerplate: “I think we challenge each other every night,” blah blah blah.

If only these guys were more interesting. If only the Jeff Goldblum, Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien cameos were funnier. If only the part toward the end where they talk about keyboardist Kevin Hearns’ leukemia (he’s OK now, apparently) didn’t suck all the air out of the film and make for a very slow conclusion to an already padded venture. If only the direction weren’t so flat-footed. If only …

Richard C. Walls writes about film and music for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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