Grand Theft Parsons

The true, stranger-than-fiction postscript to the tragically short life of talented singer-songwriter Gram Parsons provides a great, if morbid, premise for a road picture. In 1973, the 26-year-old Parsons, who during his terms with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, as well as his own brief solo career, was the driving force behind country rock,...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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The true, stranger-than-fiction postscript to the tragically short life of talented singer-songwriter Gram Parsons provides a great, if morbid, premise for a road picture. In 1973, the 26-year-old Parsons, who during his terms with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, as well as his own brief solo career, was the driving force behind country rock, died of a drug overdose in a California motel. Before Parsons' body — and consequently, his considerable estate — could be claimed by either his estranged wife or his stepfather, Parsons' faithful road manager, Phil Kaufman, and a cohort stole the body from LAX and drove it far out to the California desert where, according to the pact Kaufman claimed he had made with Parsons just two months earlier, he released the artist's spirit by burning his body in Joshua Tree National Park. The body snatchers were eventually arrested and fined $300 each for theft and $749.99 for the cost of the coffin (ironically, given the struggle over the body, the corpse itself was regarded as being of no apparent value). But British filmmaker David Caffrey and screenwriter Jeremy Drysdale fashioned this bizarrely compelling material into a dramatically inert buddy-road picture that's too shapeless to ever click. With a straggly beard, tattoos and the Byrds' "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" cowgal emblazoned across the back of his mangy denim vest (apparently the very garment worn by Kaufman when he did the deed 30 years earlier), Jackass creator and star Johnny Knoxville certainly looks the part, and is actually fairly convincing as a devoted manager and friend who feels both guilt over his charge's death and a responsibility to fulfill his buddy's final wishes, regardless of the law. Robert Forster, who costars as Parson's somewhat fictionalized stepfather, is also good, but the character of Larry Oster-Berg (Michael Shannon), Kaufman's partner-in-crime, is never fleshed out beyond stoner-hippie caricature; his one big moment, when he makes a teary case for Kaufman's dedication, rings particularly hollow. Christina Applegate's turn as Parsons' wife, Gretchen, who follows Kaufman out into the desert with his girlfriend (Marley Shelton) riding shotgun, is so shrill she's nearly unwatchable. The best thing about the whole sorry enterprise is the soundtrack, which features choice tunes by Bruce Springsteen, Starsailor and, of course, Parsons himself. The real-life Phil Kaufman, who served as the film's associate producer, makes a small cameo appearance as a felon in the final scene.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: The true, stranger-than-fiction postscript to the tragically short life of talented singer-songwriter Gram Parsons provides a great, if morbid, premise for a road picture. In 1973, the 26-year-old Parsons, who during his terms with the Byrds and the Flying… (more)

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