Lionsgate // 2003 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // April 7th, 2004
"No record deal, won't sell my soul -- they all complain and prey for rock and roll."
Here it is, folks...the wicked stepsister of Satisfaction...the badass Josie and the Pussycats...the Return of the Jedi of Gina Gershon's lesbian chic trilogy (the first two installments being Showgirls and Bound)...it's Prey for Rock & Roll!
Prey for Rock & Roll tells the story of Clamdandy, an all-girl punk rock band struggling to make in it the "down n' dirty" LA club scene. Jacki (Gina Gershon, Driven, Borderline), the band's leader, is having doubts about the future of the 'Dandy and wondering just how marketable or relevant the band is in today's flash-in-the-pan rock scene. Throw in various band members' drug habits, some lesbian sex, a rape, an ex-con's courtly advances, and her 40th birthday just around the corner, and Jacki's got her work cut out for her if she wants to keep the band together. Lucky for us, she's got the answer to it all: RRRRRRROCK!!
Prey for Rock & Roll -- written by Cheri Lovedog (undoubtedly her Christian name), a veteran of the LA music scene -- was originally performed as a play at New York's legendary CBGB's back in 2000. The film version gives us Gina Gershon as Jacki, the part both originated by and based on Lovedog (she played in a going-nowhere band, Jacki plays in a going-nowhere band; she's a tattoo artist, Jacki is a tattoo artist). Gershon, who also served as full-lipped producer, owns the movie. It was obviously a labor of love for her, and it comes through in every smile, snarl, and well-rehearsed guitar solo. Her Jackie is on the cusp of turning 40, and the movie's acknowledgment of this frees Gershon to ignore movie-star glamour and embrace her actual age; for all of her character's insecurities about looking older, Gershon the actress has never seemed so comfortable in her skin. Drea De Matteo (say it with me now: "Christophuh!"), as Clamdandy's bass player Tracy, has to appear utterly drugged out in every scene, playing the band's least redeeming member (the movie's least redeeming character is Tracy's boyfriend, who indulges in some questionable sexual practices). Lori Petty, who seems to have gone through a Mickey Rourke-style facial makeover (leaving her looking somewhat like a cross between Ellen DeGeneres and the Crypt Keeper) is at a distinct disadvantage, what with the film's utter lack of gangsta-rapping-mutant-beatnik kangaroos; she manages to turn in a nicely understated performance as the Heart of the band (to Gina Gershon's Soul).
There are at least a half-dozen live performances throughout the film, and they're one thing the movie gets right -- though that's not necessarily a plus. The band is utterly convincing in its artlessness; walk into any club any night of the week, and you'll hear a band just like Clamdandy. In this respect, the film is quite realistic, though I'm pretty sure the filmmakers thought their songs (written by Lovedog and Stephen Trask, who wrote the music for Hedwig and the Angry Inch -- which had great songs, incidentally) were somehow better than the Top 40 material the characters decry. The music itself is pretty generic three-chord punk rock, and the lyrics are at times embarrassingly amateurish (their anti-rape song, which director Alex Steyermark refers to as the "musical centerpiece" of the film, is eye-rollingly awful). Gershon, who sang all of the band's lead vocals live, had an unfortunate tendency to sing in a Joan Jett-esque drone -- like Courtney Love without any melody (if you can imagine that); still, you want to give her credit for trying. What bails these numbers out is the energy with which they're staged and the conviction of the actors. They all seem convincingly proficient on their instruments, and the camera doesn't feel the need to cut around them during the performances, making them appear all the more authentic.
More so than the music, the script is the film's weak point; for the most part, it's laden with clichés and some truly terrible dialogue. As credible as Lovedog (writing with Robin Whitehouse) may be as a musician, I couldn't shake the feeling that the screenplay was written to resemble what someone thinks tough rock chicks talk like -- there are far too many dudes and mans, and the girls only refer to one another via some truly vulgar obscenities. Now, I'm not a boy who is offended by the blue language -- heck, at times I speak in nothing but swears -- but when it's this insincere, it tends to call too much attention to itself: "We're tough and our parents aren't around, so listen to what we'll say!" The mandatory rape subplot Lovedog includes is handled with all the grace and maturity of a junior-high revenge fantasy, and the random tragedy near the film's end carries little weight -- it's so left-field that it barely registers.
What's missing from the film, which wants to be about the joy of living and playing rock music, is any actual joy -- rock music for these gals feels more like a burden. School of Rock made us feel how liberating playing music can be, reminding us what it meant to bang your head and give Mom and Dad the finger -- I mean that in the nicest way -- and still managed to be sweet and upbeat at the same time. Prey for Rock & Roll, on the other hand, pretty much wallows in misery for 90 minutes. That's not to say the film itself is miserable. It presents a fairly good portrait of the hardships faced by a band that's indistinguishable from any other. But when the band takes the stage for the big finale, it's meant to feel transcendent -- unfortunately, it comes off as only slightly more energetic.
Lions Gate's presentation looks pretty great. The film was shot on digital video (DV), so its transfer is free of any of the grain or specks found in some film transfers. The photography, by Antonio Calvache, is actually one of the best examples of DV that I've seen; only when a scene is dimly lit or the camera makes a quick movement (creating that blurring effect found in DV) does the image give itself away as being anything other than film.
The disc's only extras are the film's theatrical trailer (accessed by selecting the Lions Gate logo on the main menu) and a feature-length commentary by director Alex Steyermark. His talk is not without value, as he details the production's history and discusses some of the limitations of shooting on such a small budget, but (like many first-time directors) he tends to gush at length about nearly every aspect of the film. That's all well and good when you're Paul Thomas Anderson and you're talking about Hard Eight, but Steyermark's film is far too uneven to warrant the nonstop praise he heaps upon it. Though his obvious passion is somewhat endearing, it gets a bit old around the 15-minute mark.
Being that I'm a brand-new judge and this is my first-ever review, I would love to come up with something marginally quotable like "Prey for a better movie." But this one's not that bad. The story and music are weak, but the movie's heart is in the right place and the actors really throw themselves into the material. Diehard rock fans and/or Gershonophiles could do a lot worse.
The Court finds the cast not guilty on all counts, but sees fit to make a recommendation that Gina Gershon be put on musical probation for 12 to 24 months.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary Featuring Director Alex Steyermark
* Theatrical Trailer