Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" is one of the most popular songs of all time, a cheesy, soaring ballad that has come to be loved by millions of people un-ironically. This sloppy documentary, also called Don't Stop Believin', aims to be just as inspiring, but it's like watching a cover band: they've got the music down pat, but the passion is curiously absent.
The story behind this doc should, by all accounts, make you want to stand up and cheer. Arnel Pineda was a former alcoholic and addict toiling away in rock obscurity in his native Philippines. His buddy had put some of his Journey covers on YouTube, which caught the attention of Journey guitarist Neal Schon, who got him to come out and audition for Steve Perry's old job, which he nailed.
But this rags-to-riches tale never goes any deeper than it has to. It's lazy filmmaking about a band that could be called many things but never that. Plus, it feels a little disingenuous. While the band took a risk by bringing an unknown foreign kid to the States to replace one of the most singular voices in rock, they didn't exactly pick Pineda for his vocal chops. They picked him because he sounds nearly identical to Perry. That's a key difference that removes any stakes the group had riding on this tour.
What's most frustrating about Don't Stop Believin' is how it's so often close to digging into something of substance, whether it's Pineda's importance to Filipino-Americans or some of the fans' casual racism"”one person says the band should have picked an American singer"”but remains content to glide on past it to get to some above-average concert footage.
The movie also pads out its nearly two-hour running time with endless shots of the crew setting up the stage, then taking it down after the show, then rolling to the next city on the tour to do it all again. It repeats itself thematically, too. Before and after every show, Pineda laments that he's going to freeze up or perform poorly, only for him to go out and kill every single time.
Don't Stop Believin' plays like the last 20 minutes of a Behind the Music episode, only without the gravitas of Jim Forbes' narration or the tightness of paring it down to an hour with commercials. That would have been a journey worth taking.