‘Stoned’ tunes out key parts of Jones’s story

Brian Jones was 20 when he formed the Rolling Stones and 27 when he drowned in his swimming pool, in circumstances that are murky nearly 40 years later. Spent from drugs and fame, he had just been kicked out of the group whose droogy vibe he had done much to establish. Rock critic Robert Christgau once wrote that ”Brian was one of the damned by choice of personality,” and that seems about right; where Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were workaholics under their bad-boy exteriors, Jones gave in to the rock-star mythos early and often and, in the end, fatally.

This would make a fascinating movie. It’s a shame that ”Stoned” isn’t it.

All the pieces are in place for an incisive tale of Brit-pop ego and madness, but filmmaker Stephen Woolley — a celebrated UK producer (”The Crying Game”) making his directing debut — lets the story get away from him. ”Stoned” suggests Oliver Stone’s ”The Doors” crossed with ”Gods and Monsters,” insofar as Jones’s hired handyman, Frank Thorogood (Paddy Considine), plays a pivotal role and that looming swimming pool is never far out of sight. But even ”The Doors” looked like a model of clarity next to this.

When Frank arrives to do some building for Jones (Leo Gregory), the rock star’s at the end of the line, living in addled splendor in a lavish estate that once belonged to A.A. Milne. Anita Pallenberg (Monet Mazur) has since ditched him for Keith, but Brian contents himself with a look-alike Swede (Tuva Novotny). In pushy, overedited flashbacks, we see Brian and Anita’s relationship disintegrate via drugs, kinky sex, and the collapse in him of anything resembling motivation. When Brian drops his first tab of acid, the trip montage that follows is scored to the Jefferson Airplane’s ”White Rabbit,” an idea that was embarrassingly old hat in 1970.

Meanwhile, Frank finds himself sucked into a life of decadence for which he’s hardly prepared; an unassuming working-class bloke, he becomes Brian’s cook, protector, and whipping boy. There are elements here of the old 1969 film ”Performance” (starring Jagger) and Joseph Losey’s ”The Servant” — in fact, there seem to be bits of every movie Stephen Woolley has ever seen. A producer’s job is to handle the big picture in all its details, while a director needs to hone the story to its essentials. Woolley is still a producer.

Brian can barely rouse himself from his couch, let alone join the lads in the studio. The checks are still being signed, though, and Stones gofer Tom Keylock (David Morrissey, slightly atoning for ”Basic Instinct 2″) hangs around as an all-purpose enabler. Still, only a fool wouldn’t be able to read the writing on the wall.

A better, more interesting ”Stoned” might have made the case that Brian read the writing and welcomed entropy anyway, and Gregory makes a few feints in that direction with his knowing, dissolute smile. The actor’s fundamentally miscast, though, and not just because he looks like David Spade in a fright wig. Jones had the knack of seeming simultaneously innocent and depraved, and Gregory’s able only to handle the latter part of that equation.

Considine thrashes about in an unfocused role, coming to life only in a harsh little scene where Brian’s girlfriend taunts him with the possibility of some hippie-chick action. ”Stoned” sets up an interesting conflict — a fading prince of rock royalty is viewed with contempt by the blue-collar longhairs landscaping his garden — and never develops it.

Instead, Woolley and his screenwriters (Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who wrote the last two Bond movies and ”Johnny English”) press their case that Brian was murdered, dramatizing the climactic event with sudden conviction. (They cite a deathbed confession in the end credits, not mentioning that it’s since been disavowed by people in a position to know.) Believable? As much as anything here, which is to say not very.

The biggest sin in ”Stoned” is that it never conveys a passion for music. (The same can’t be said for the terrific 1994 early-Beatles movie ”Backbeat,” which Woolley produced.) Instead of Jagger-Richards classics, the soundtrack bulges with cuts by Robert Johnson, and that makes sense: Brian was the blues-freak purist of the Stones. The songs are mere ornaments, though, and you never sense how they speak to the man at the center of this movie. If there were hellhounds on Brian Jones’s trail, they never made it to the set.

(Ty Burr, Globe Staff, April 14, 2006)