Hopes for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band were high; its producers expected the film to be "this generation's Gone with the Wind". However, it received extremely negative reviews from most critics and barely broke even at the box office. The movie currently holds a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
According to movie historian Leonard Maltin, the picture "...ranges from tolerable to embarrassing and just doesn't work. As for the Bee Gees' acting talents, if you can't say something nice..."
Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that the film's "musical numbers are strung together so mindlessly that the movie has the feel of an interminable variety show"; while it may have been "conceived in a spirit of merriment, ... watching it feels like playing shuffleboard at the absolute insistence of a bossy shipboard social director. When whimsy gets to be this overbearing, it simply isn't whimsy any more." She complimented Martin on his "completely unhinged rendition of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," but pointed out that his scene is a "reminder that the film is otherwise humorless."
Newsweek's David Ansen called Sgt. Pepper "a film with a dangerous resemblance to wallpaper."
Rolling Stone writer Paul Nelson shredded virtually every aspect of the production, from stars Peter Frampton (of whom he wrote had "Absolutely no future in Hollywood") to director Michael Schultz ("Would seem to need direction merely to find the set, let alone the camera") to the soundtrack album ("The album proves conclusively that you can't go home again in 1978. Or, if you do, you'd better be aware of who's taken over the neighborhood.").
Perry Seibert of Allmovie called the film "quite possibly the silliest movie ever conceived," with a "handful of high camp moments" featuring Martin, Burns; Earth, Wind & Fire; Aerosmith, and Billy Preston who "somehow transcend the jaw-dropping inanity that poisons the rest of the cast."
The Intelligencer's Lou Gaul called the film "A sort of modern Fantasia for today's teens." The Valley Independent's Ron Paglia called it "Good, campy fun," citing Steve Martin's performance as "a high point," and the celebrity filled finale as "something special" before concluding "there's much to enjoy."
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