Review: Killing Bono

Envy -- it’s not the most noble or flattering emotion. We all suffer its pangs, though few of us will admit to it, let alone write a memoir about it -- and then sell the rights to a filmmaker so our jealousy and hubris are movie-sized for the world to witness. Then again, we were never BFFs with Bono and watched him skyrocket to stardom while our own rock-god dreams sputtered on the bar stage. Not like Neil McCormick, whose novel “Killing Bono: I Was Bono’s Doppelganger” sets the stage for Killing Bono, director Nick Hamm's film adaptation of his green-eyed memoir.

Neil and Bono (aka Paul Hewson), started off on similar footing -- in the same Dublin school, with the same rock-star dreams -- but followed separate but parallel (in Neil’s mind) paths soon after. When Neil’s brother Ivan tries out for lead guitar in Paul’s new band and is accepted, Neil convinces Paul to tell him he didn’t make it so he’ll join his group, the Undertakers (a cover-up that, when exposed, haunts both Neil and Ivan, and their brotherly bond, long after). While Paul, renamed and reborn as Bono (though alas, we never learn why) makes it big with his new rock band, U2, Neil launches a series of almost-famous ensembles. His early stage persona (an '80s New Wave robot), has more in common with David Byrne (Talking Heads) than Bono and his political and spiritual rock hymns. Not that Bono doesn’t do his best to give his childhood chum a leg up in the music biz more than once, but Neil is too proud to take his help and would rather borrow money from a shady strip club owner to finance his latest band. A succession of monumentally bad decisions like that (or scheduling shows the same day as the pope’s visit), and a bit of bad luck (like a record exec getting fired the day before he’s about to sign Neil’s band), thwart McCormick’s attempts to ascend to Bono's superstar status, and gradually drive him mad -- and nearly, to murder.

Funny, irreverent, slightly bitter, and brimming with self-importance and self-loathing, Killing Bono has all the makings of an entertaining rock-and-roll movie. You won’t find what you’re looking for (pardon the Joshua Tree pun) if what you’re looking for is an inside look at U2’s early years (you might find more of that in McCormick’s book). This movie’s all about Neil, with a self-centered perspective that sometimes makes one long for a little impartial insight. Hamm's lighthearted delivery of Neil's disastrous failures and homicidal despair sometimes doesn't ring true -- and makes one also wonder about the depth a more serious lens might have brought to the film. But Killing Bono should find plenty of fans, especially in those among us who’ve watched former classmates marry models, became news anchors, win Olympic gold medals, or otherwise achieve great success while we somehow miss the mark and end up selling sneakers in the mall. Reveling in a film like Killing Bono makes one feel a bit less burdened, and hopeful, that their unfulfilled dreams (made into a memoir and movie) might just be their long-awaited ticket to success.

Grade: B-