Directed by Randall Miller
You can tell how bad this is going to be when Hilly Kristal, owner of the titular New York City club, escapes his crib as a baby and defiantly runs across his family’s farm; as he stops in front of a cow, a word balloon appears onscreen: “Cowabunga!” Seriously. It’s one of the first uses of shoddy comic-book panel graphics—meant to echo the irreverence of Punk magazine’s illustrations—which pop up regularly, disastrously, to insult the viewer’s intelligence. It’s the history of 1970s punk rock as told like a CBS sitcom, just without the professionally crafted jokes: I counted six scenes punctuated by a close up of a shoe, boot, or bare foot stepping in dog shit. It’s a pretty apt metaphor for those who’ll squish into CBGB on cable for years to come.
Hollywood biopics have long been the movies’ most undeservedly respected genre, and this one is a prime example of how they depict factual events while still lying to your face. Directed by undistinguished veteran Randall Miller (who helmed Kid ‘n Play’s Class Act), this one features a thimble-deep re-creation of every story you’ve ever heard about CBGB’s, each played with a stiff, by-rote formality. It doesn’t have any genuine moments. Alan Rickman phones in his performance as Kristal with a single facial expression and a worse American accent than the one used to fool John McClane in Die Hard. All the actors, talented and untalented, are wasted in Hollyween-y drag as famous punks; Rupert Grint (aka Ron Weasley) is probably the best as clueless Dead Boys’ bassist Cheetah Chrome. He only sort of stinks.
Bands traipse through for cameos, lip-syncing their most famous records already fully formed. We see no artistic struggle; no humanity is revealed. The club is depicted as stocked with musical geniuses (who happen to talk like phony morons). Talking Heads play “Psycho Killer” while everyone nods at each other to telegraph, “This punk club could be historic!” It’s the sort of period film in which, if a TV’s on, Nixon’s going to be on it at the exact second he says, “I’m not a crook”—the sort in which bikers and Bowery junkies pop-in like wacky skid-row Kramers. It’s pure garbage, made by and for people who get their hot musical tips from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Opens October 11