‘Runaways’ doesn't quite rock 

The story of The Runaways — that band of young, born-to-be-wild girls packaged and sold to a world hungry for sexpot rockers — would be compelling even if one of them, leather-clad guitarist Joan Jett, didn’t prove herself a star with real staying power.

Yet, Floria Sigismondi’s feature-length debut feels like a rough sketch of the band’s meteoric rise and humbling fall, teasing us with the promise of insight but rarely providing it.

Consider the relationship between Jett (Kristen Stewart, gloomier here than as the sulky heroine of “Twilight”) and blond post-pubescent lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). (The rest of the band is seen but largely unheard, though Scout Taylor-Compton, as the fiery Lita Ford, slips in a few words edgewise.)

Were Jett and Currie friends? For a time, yes. Were they lovers? Maybe.

Did their friendship — forged under the watchful gaze of tyrannical producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) — survive the band going belly up?

On that point, “The Runaways” is frustratingly vague. We know that Jett and Currie avoided contact for years, until Curie, struggling with addiction and working the register at an arts-and-crafts store, reached out to Jett on a call-in radio show.

There’s more to the story — the two are planning to tour together this summer.

Sigismondi skimps on details like that, but in her defense, the movie focuses on the band’s four-year life span, from 1975 to ’79.

Watching “The Runaways,” you’d never guess the combustible quintet survived even that long.

Their revolution begins, as most do, with bloodshed — period blood, signaling Currie’s first brush with womanhood.

From there, she succumbs to the perils of rock ’n’ roll — the booze and drugs that have provided the subtext to so many “Behind the Music”-style cautionary tales — after being handpicked by Fowley, more for her look than her talent, to be the face of the first all-girl rock group.

Their ascent to stardom is swift, their decline a blur of hedonistic excess.

By the end, the only one with an ounce of enthusiasm left is Fowley, the egomaniac Svengali who bends the girls until they break. The Runaways, it seems, were less a groundbreaking assertion of girl power than a cynical marketing experiment.

And what of Jett, who produced this loose adaptation of Currie’s 1989 autobiography? She’s fierce, moody and single-minded in her pursuit of stardom. Beyond that, we learn precious little.

Stewart plays her as the enigmatic outsider, silently observing and waiting for her moment to pounce, yet always deferential to the mesmerizing fury Shannon brings to his role as the man behind the curtain.

The Runaways

Two stars

Starring Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Stella Maeve, Scout Taylor-Compton
Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi
Rated R
Running time 1 hour 42 minutes

Courtesy photo
Queens of noise: Dakota Fanning, left, and Kristen Stewart play Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, respectively, in “The Runaways,” a slight biopic about the famed 1970s group. 

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Michael Daboll

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