BITTERSWEET MOTEL **
STARRING: Phish band members Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell, Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman.
DIRECTOR: Todd Phillips.
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes.
RATING: Not rated, but there is occasional rough language and some nudity.
THE LOWDOWN: A documentary about the popular jam band Phish.
America is a great country. Where else can suburban white boys go to the mall, listen to Boston, and then grow up to have a Ben & Jerry's ice cream named after them?
That's the basic story of Phish, according to its singer/guitarist Trey Anastasio. Anastasio spins this yarn about their New Jersey upbringing in the film documentary "Bittersweet Motel," which is sort of like "Spinal Tap" meets "The Blair Witch Project."
We get lots of shaky camera footage backstage and motel shots of the four-piece band on and off the road. There is the usual rock documentary introspection. Fans chip in their two cents worth and a number of concert performances are shown.
Overall, this is a generic, dull film but in fairness to its director, Todd Phillips, the movie does seem to capture the off-stage personality of the band.
Phish is known for its loyal fans and intelligent, improvisational music. Away from the guitars and drums, however, these fellows may constitute the most boring rock band in history. All are in their mid-30s, wear jeans and sweat shirts, and meander through life with a kind of listless and mellow groove.
Jon Fishman, the group's drummer, questions the making of the documentary when he says, "The whole point of making a movie about yourself is so self-serving."
And it is.
Fans looking for sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll or Led Zeppelin fish stories should stay away. These Phish guys are family men who live in Vermont, who seem happy eating cookies, drinking beer and talking over old times.
The most shocking scene in the movie comes courtesy of a radio station promotion to get fans to gather in the nude for a photo shoot, which turns out to be harmless fun.
Anastasio appears a little tipsy from drinking too much beer in one scene. In another reality flash, he wards off a female groupie who wants a ride on his motor scooter. In this movie, that's about as hot as the action gets.
The best parts of the film are the concerts, filmed in the United States and Europe. This is a band that likes to have fun and does everything from hard rock jams to barbershop harmony.
The group has never had a hit single or major MTV video, but last year drew more than a million fans to 60 concerts and grossed more than $40 million. Anastasio is bugged that Phish fails to receive critical acclaim.
"I think they (critics) are offended by the fact that so many people enjoy what they don't like," he said.
Although the band doesn't like being compared to the Grateful Dead, it seems to be the heirs to that group when it comes to jamming and having fans follow them to each concert.
Just as Ben & Jerry's named an ice cream, Cherry Garcia, for the Dead's Jerry Garcia, the Vermont-based company markets Phish Food.
Still, after watching "Bittersweet Motel," it makes you wonder how such a cool band could be such nerds.