This is perhaps the most plot-driven of any of the Beatles' films, thus creating more focus that, of course, graces this story and its characters with more in the way of development than what was provided in "A Hard Day's Night", and would go on to be provided in "Magical Mystery Tour" and "Yellow Submarine", yet there is still little care put into making all that much of a plot, and if this effort doesn't even pay much mind to its story's core, then you can imagine that it wouldn't pay much mind to building the story, and sure enough, while there is a bit more flesh-out than usual in this cinematic Beatles vehicle, the bare minimum of background and exposition behind the characters and story are covered in the midst of frantic hurrying. The film slapdashes and slam-bangs, and comes out a bit too undercooked for its own good, and it was always going to be thin, and yet, just as problematic as the hurrying is, of course, the slow spells, for although atmosphere rarely dries up like it all too often did in "A Hard Day's Night", blandness can be kept at bay for only so long before pacing falls slave to plot structuring's going bloated with anything from narrativeless, uninterrupted musical numbers to aimless filler. When the film isn't picking up a bit too much momentum, it's dropping the ball and limping out a bit, and such a storytelling formula gets to be repetitious, really thinning out momentum that was never to be too high, seeing as how this film is such a big fluff piece, as it constantly reminds you. The film's story itself is over-the-top, so it's only natural that certain set pieces surrounding the story be a little out there, but after a while, the craziness of the fluffy set pieces and colorful happenings don't so much seem like components to the story's silliness that reinforce a sense that the final product should be taken in its own loony context, as much as they get too carried away for their own good, to where it becomes kind of difficult to see them in their context through all of the awkward cheesiness that only distances you. Yeah, the film is pretty cornball, and yet, every flaw I just mentioned, from uneven pacing to the over-the-top fluffy cheesiness, can, to some extent or another, also be directed towards the other Beatles films, which were still decent, even though they had little, if any plot, and with this film actually having some kind of focus, you'd think it would be the relative best Beatles film, but in the end, the final product ends up descending to the borders of mediocrity alongside its fellow Beatles vehicles because its plot, while there in the first place, is formulaic, when not inconsequentially thin and over-the-top, and it holds a certain liveliness that carries entertainment value a long way, the focus put into the narrative only leaves you to meditate upon just how crazy this film's story is, and you know that must be saying quite a bit, seeing as how the other Beatles films were hardly down-to-earth. Other Beatles film plots might very well be every bit as ridiculous as this film's, if not more so, but with this film actually asking you to run with some kind of "focused" flow, you can't help but notice this fluff piece's, well, stupidity, which can be bypassed enough to make a decent film, as this effort will show you, but does so much damage to the final product, whose also being damaged by pacing problems and fall-flat cheesy moments that almost leave mediocrity to rear its dreaded head into things. However, as messy as this goofy film is, when it hits, or about as much as it needs to, it's hard not to stick with it, as the film compensates for most of its hiccups with genuine entertainment value, as well as some commendable production value.
When I say that this film is goofy, I mean that it's about the Beatles trying to escape from an eastern cult that is hunting down Ringo Starr with the intention of reclaiming a ceremonial sacrificial ring that he somehow ended up with that eventually turns into a plot to apprehend and actually sacrifice Starr himself, and with a plot that over-the-top, the filmmakers are going to have to give it their all if their going to summon compensation that keeps the final product decent, and sure enough, while this film doesn't exactly milk its $1.5 million for all it is worth, the production designs range from impressive to delightfully colorful and rather intricate, and the various locations are near-immersively well-thought-out and nifty. This adventure film isn't exactly sweeping, but it hits up plenty of locations, and they all give you enough of a sense of adventure to help in reinforcing liveliness that is further complimented by a certain aspect whose strength is, unlike production value, utterly predictable: the music, which isn't great, seeing as how George Martin's and Ken Thorne's score is fairly formulaic, and the Beatles' really poppy tunes are a bit too fluffy for their own good (If only I could tell the people in 1965 to sit tight, because they were but a year away from "Revolver" and, by extension, a new and more realized version of the Beatles that you annoying nostalgic just have to admit is better than the pop/Beatlemania era Beatles), yet is still quite enjoyable, with Martin's and Thorne's conventional score having a certain color that goes topped only by the Beatles' soundtrack, whose musical numbers have a tendency to stop the narrative cold, but only so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy some entertaining tunes. Not all of the Beatles' songs hit (I mean, just look at where this film got its title from), yet much more often than not, the musical value of the film breathes just as much liveliness into the final product's entertainment value as awkward unevenness into the focus that this film should be more grateful for having, - seeing as how none of its fellow Beatles films have focus going for it - thus making for a Beatles vehicle that provides a decent showcase of classic tunes by a classic band, yet does not stand a chance of fully compensating for the storytelling flaws, which, in order to be forgiven enough for the final product to stand as decent, must be met with storytelling beats that are truly commendable, or at least reasonably enjoyable. Marc Behm's plot is way out there, and plenty of the fluffy set pieces that drive it get to be way too cheesy for their own good, thus making it difficult to run with the final product in its own context as an intentionally loony tale, though not so difficult that it's near-impossible to stick with the messy, paper-thin story, as there is still a certain liveliness to all of the silliness that goes greatly complimented by high points within Charles Wood's script, whose humor doesn't always work, but hits surprisingly very hard when it delivers a genuinely effective piece of wit or color that director Richard Lester really springs to life with his clever comic set piece structuring. To my surprise, this film is actually really funny, with well-timed and witty little comic touches that strike you with a quick and memorable chuckle, and big comedic set pieces that, while sometimes too over-the-top for their own good, proves to be pretty fun on the whole, thus the film succeeds as a comedy, yet wouldn't be as successful as it ultimately is without onscreen talents to do a fine job of delivering the color that the offscreen talents initially establish. "A Hard Day's Night" was surprisingly carried by the Beatles, who showed plenty of potential of being charismatic movie stars that is further seen in this film, whose stars don't really have too much to work with, but deliver on a charisma that seamlessly bonds dryness and liveliness in a unique and endearing fashion, and goes complimented by excellent chemistry that makes the final product's ensemble aspect reasonably delightful. Like its successors and "A Hard Day's Night", the film is flawed as all get-out, and because there's a bit more focus to this effort, you see the messiness more than usual, yet such messiness does not blind you to the strengths, which are limited, but effective enough to keep you consistently entertained with a charm and liveliness that makes the final product a decent one, in spite of its misguided areas.
Overall, the expository shortcomings, repetitious dragging and wealth of cheesiness that plagues other Beatles films still stand, but this time, there's more focus behind the ludicrous plot, and that leaves you to notice the natural and consequential shortcoming even more, almost to the point of depriving the final product of the decency that miraculously retained in the end, thanks to the nifty production designs and locations, entertaining soundtrack and thoroughly charming, when not highly amusing writing by Charles Wood, directorial structuring by Richard Lester, and charisma by and chemistry between the Beatles that make "Help!" a fairly entertaining, if messy adventure film vehicle for the 1960s' biggest band.
2.5/5 - Fair