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MOVIE REVIEW

Cranking it up, sans guitar

David 'C-Diddy' Jung shows off his style in the documentary 'Air Guitar Nation.' David "C-Diddy" Jung shows off his style in the documentary "Air Guitar Nation." (shadow distribution)

Coming soon: The Hairbrush-Microphone World Championships.

OK, not really. But maybe. . . . Who knows?

Anything's possible in a world where there's an international award for pretending to strum an imaginary ax while Motörhead's "Ace of Spades" plays (for real) in the background.

Heralding the feature debut of filmmaker Alexandra Lipsitz, "Air Guitar Nation" is a semiserious documentary about a cult of performance art that until recently was never meant to be taken seriously. The film pulls back the curtain on domestic and international air guitar competitions -- yes, they really do exist -- and it asks viewers to keep an open mind even when it plays for laughs, which isn't quite often enough.

How does any movie keep a straight face while exploring the ethereal craft of faux rockers who call themselves the Shred, Krye Tuff, and the Red Plectrum? Especially at the beginning, "Air Guitar Nation" is fun because its subject matter has built-in nostalgia and wackiness. But it might have been funnier if it displayed more of that oddball spirit in the filmmaking.

Lipsitz, whose creative talents have thus far mainly been tested behind the scenes at TV's "Project Runway," has plenty of room to grow as a director, and in future films (ideally less obviously spawned from reality-show ideas) she might exhibit more talent for things like boldness and perspective in her documentaries. For now, though, she at least knows how to pick a winner -- in this case David Jung, an actor who goes by the stage name of C-Diddy and whose signature get-up includes a Hello Kitty breastplate.

Jung wows audiences with a high-voltage style that involves lots of tongue, feverish faux-fretwork, and little reverence. His Korean-American parents seem worried that he's a caricature, but they stick by him anyway, sharing in the triumph when he blows the doors off every US competition on his way to the world championships in Finland.

There, Jung's rivals are mostly scary devotees and former champions who aren't predisposed to be amused by his 60-second antics. There's also a wildcard fellow American, Dan "Bjorn Turoque" Crane, a real-guitar-trained dreamer who refuses to concede despite losing to Jung in every previous match-up. This may be sad but it's also a blessing, because Crane's absorbing blend of droll commentary and sincere passion for performing give the film many of its most satisfying moments. Also Crane's nana delivers the best backhanded compliment of the film when she explains that her grandson is "like a mime."

We learn that the championships began a decade ago as something of a joke and pacifist statement. Now they include boot camp with classes on maintaining your instrument and dealing with groupies.

Footage of anti-Bush protests makes its way into the Finland segment, not that he can be blamed for the legacy of "Wayne's World," but the suggestion is that C-Diddy can be seen as a sort of ambassador for the "make air, not war" sentiment.

Why not? Even as real ambassadors go, we could do worse.

Janice Page can be reached at jpage@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

'Related'

Air Guitar Nation

Directed by: Alexandra Lipsitz

Running time: 81 minutes

At: Brattle Theatre, through Thursday

Rated: R (language and brief nudity)

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