Cherie Currie cuts a compelling and tragic figure. As we learn in “The Runaways” — a new film about the all-girl teenage garage-rock band — she signed on at the tender age of 15 to record and tour with a group that featured Joan Jett and Lita Ford. They cut albums and toured as far as Japan, where they were mobbed for their mix of snarl and sex appeal. What many people would be fearful of attempting even today, this little girl did when it was unheard of for most women to try.
The movie, written and directed by Floria Sigismondi, makes all these points but somehow never manages to show us who Currie really was, what she became and why it's important. It's a realistic recreation of the 1970s during the glam-rock era; however, it's most promising during its early scenes of rebellion when Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Currie (Dakota Fanning), strangers in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, bond over leather jackets, Gary Glitter and T. Rex.
When they're introduced by promoter and producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), Sigismondi begins to lose the duo in the clichAcs of a biopic, and struggles to bring them back to three-dimensional life with titillating scenes of drug use and sex. You're thinking, “at least I get titillation,” but given their ages the result is a few degrees shy of hot.
Currie wrote the source material, and it could be that close relationship, combined with tentative performances from Stewart and Fanning, that keep “The Runaways” from being an all-girl riot. Currie could have been shown as a symptom of her era, but “The Runaways” reveals more of our own.
I watched Fanning, now 16, take questions almost two years ago at a pre-release screening for another movie, and even at that age she was already more oddly professional and tightly controlled than Currie — who also fizzled as an actress — ever learned to be. Fanning may never bottom out the way her character did, but, perhaps trying too hard to be a star, neither is she able to risk those depths. (R) 105 min. HHIII