Punk Put-On

This Is Spinal Tap and Fear of a Black Hat did their pseudo-documentaries, those savagely satirical takes on rock and rap. But those who think Hard Core Logo will do the same are setting themselves up for more disappointment than Johnny Rotten playing a bar mitzvah.

Hard Core Logo, based on Michael Turner's book of the same name, skewers punk bands. But it's a straight-faced put-on, choosing to take the high road and dramatize the trials and tribulations of a band instead of making fun of them. It might not be that humorous, but there are less interesting ways to spend 92 minutes in a movie theater.

Filmed three years ago, the movie was probably prompted by the resurgence of punk at the time. It is a mock documentary on the legendary, and fictional, Vancouver punk band Hard Core Logo. During their 12 years as Canada's most dangerous punks, they made seven albums (including the notorious Son of a Bitch to the Core) and did 1,000 shows before splitting up in 1991.

Four years later, the band leader Joe Dick (Hugh Dillon) persuades the rest of his mates -- charismatic guitarist Billy Tallent (Callum Keith Rennie), schizophrenic bassist John Oxenberger (John Pyper-Ferguson) and slob drummer Pipefitter (Bernie Coulson) -- to reunite for a benefit for punk mentor-turned-amputated-recluse Bucky Haight (Julian Richings).

Dick soon persuades his bandmates to go on the road to play the small-time clubs and nightspots they did before their breakup. Billy returns to the fold although he has found success with a Hole-like American band named Jenifur. Dick, balancing a slate of disgust and envy, reviles Billy's newfound taste for mainstream success. "There's two different ways to look at it," the Dick tells the camera. "Billy just wants the models and the limousines, and I'm just happy with hookers and taxicabs."

As the band travels those bright and breezy Canadian roads (in what looks like an old ice-cream truck), it doesn't take long for the tension that pulled them apart to seep back in. Oxenberger, who has spent most of the tour somberly writing Henry Rollins-esque entries in his journal, starts to go off the deep end after losing his pills. Dick continuously throws away the performance money on groupies and prostitutes. Pipefitter (he can't remember his own name) partakes in such punk activities as whizzing on himself and masturbating in the back of the van.

Let's just say the toll of the road affects everybody.
Hard Core Logo scores by showing the desperation punk rockers and other journeyman musicians feel when their glory days are far behind them. Social security will be kicking in soon, and they have to plot and scheme just to get noticed. When Billy tells Dick he can't go on playing crappy dives for the rest of his life ("I'm 35 years old tomorrow -- if I play this club one more time, I'm gonna fuckin' shoot myself"), he means it.

The film slows with the on-stage antics of these guys -- it's not so much rebellious as repulsively absurd. When they're not pecking each other on the cheek, they're spitting on each other. Even the songs, with such compelling titles as "Rock and Roll Is Fat and Ugly" and "Something's Gonna Die Tonight," have a bloated sense of contrivance.

And the film could've done without a laughable hallucinogenic sequence where the boys trip out on drugs and slay a goat on the farm of Haight, who turns out not to be the invalid Dick claimed he was.

Director Bruce McDonald, who has been down this musical-movie route before with the films Roadkill and Highway 61, knows how to make the fictitious seem visibly realistic. One clever scene has McDonald, who is playing himself, being chewed out by Coulson's Pipefitter for his film work.

Dillon, who has a punk band of his own (Headstones), plays the manipulative, irrational, devoted punk bandleader to scary perfection.

Music critic Greil Marcus defines punk music as "a load of old ideas sensationalized into new feelings almost instantly turned into new cliches, but set forth with such momentum that the whole blew up its equations day by day." The bitter, dour men of Hard Core Logo have nothing but old ideas. They've lost the emotion needed to recycle thoughts -- they're not even a punk band anymore; they're a revival band. When one of them does reveal his true emotion in the film's unnecessarily weighty but jaw-dropping climax, the band and the movie come to their nihilistic apex.

Hard Core Logo is a tolerable film about an intolerable punk band and their intolerable music. The movie doesn't exactly pinpoint punk at its most anarchic coolness, but there is one significantly cool punk moment in the movie: The four men walk defiantly in slow motion to their next gig, their instruments in tow. Playing in the background is the Ramones' "Touring."

Hearing Joey Ramone -- who makes a brief cameo in the film -- and his crew of long-haired hooligans spew that East Coast street-tough brand of punk makes you say to yourself, "The Ramones; now that's a great punk band."

Hard Core Logo.
Rated R.
Directed by Bruce McDonald. With Hugh Dillon, Callum Keith Rennie, John Pyper-Ferguson, Bernie Coulson and Julian Richings.


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