In "Jimi: All Is By My Side," bassist Noel Redding wants to know if joining The Jimi Hendrix Experience will be a paying gig. It won't, at least at first. "We're broke, too," Hendrix says, lounging in a cafe with his arm around a pretty girl. "Might as well hang out with us and be broke and cool."
That's an attractive proposition -- great bands have formed for less -- and especially coming from as hep a cat as Jimi Hendrix, played by André Benjamin (half of the hip-hop duo Outkast). Decked out in a resplendent Afro and the best vintage wardrobe since Kate Hudson's in "Almost Famous," Benjamin is terrific as a spacey young Hendrix making his way through Swinging London during one formative year, 1966-67. Despite being a good decade older than the character he plays, Benjamin is so naturally, captivatingly cool that the movie develops a problem. "Jimi" would rather just fawn over its subject than try to tell us his story.
Written by first-time director John Ridley ("12 Years a Slave"), "Jimi" is one of those biopics that wants to show the birth of genius but falls back on a sense of predestination. Imogen Poots plays Linda Keith, a British model and London scenester so floored by Hendrix's talent that she becomes his unofficial agent, benefactor and all-but-lover. ("He's a drug addict!" fumes her boyfriend, Keith Richards.) Eric Clapton, played by Danny McColgan, shows up only to pout about Hendrix's brilliance, while names like Seymour Stein and Andrew Loog Oldham are dropped to satisfy classic-rock historians.
Ridley couldn't secure the rights to Hendrix's most iconic songs, but he compensates with a deep catalog of cover tunes. (Hendrix's distinctive guitar sound is sufficiently replicated by veteran session-man Waddy Wachtel.) The movie wants to be both stylish and authentic, but it often gets seduced by its own romantic vision of the 1960s. In a decade of cool, Hendrix was among the coolest, but we didn't need "Jimi" to tell us that.
PLOT An early year in the life of Jimi Hendrix
RATING R (language, drug use, violence)
CAST André Benjamin, Imogen Poots, Hayley Atwell
BOTTOM LINE A hip-looking mess of a movie, made tolerable by Benjamin's spacey-cool Hendrix. Great costumes, few insights.