The world of rock and roll is its own private universe of Hell and high water marks: a land of seductive charms and sleazy ideals. It can pick up and swallow people whole, leaving their fans and fellow band mates adrift in the wake of unfulfilled promise. It can also internalize an already paranoid personality into a full-blown artist's ego where nothing, not even the highway, is the right way. Occasionally, a casualty in the claim for musical change can be a mere innocent bystander, someone who burned so brightly that a crazy fan or obsessed psycho had to distinguish the brilliance before it overshadowed everyone. There's even such an item as rock and roll years. Those who choose to bang their head or power the pop, pay for it in a Dorian Gray manner, growing in age like dogs and cats while humans around them maintain the space-time continuum. Look at someone like Mick Jagger: 61 in real age but about 200 in onstage existence. Or maybe his glimmer twin cohort Keith Richards is a better example of musical excess stealing away the vital energies and moisture from the human. Carbon dating couldn't determine his time taken up to anyone's 'satisfaction'. So when a movie name checks this horrible hemisphere, this planet of pain and the passing fad, it better get its sonic statements correct. And then to use a play on words, to suggest that there are indeed victims and assassins for this rockabilly routine ups the ante for antics considerably. Any movie called Prey for Rock and Roll better be exact. It better gets its music and its scene correct and connected. It better show how living the life most can only dream of causes both predatory and persecuted behavior. Unfortunately, this sloppy, soppy noisy nonsense is a chord change short of entertainment and an O.D. away from actually being affecting.
Jacki is turning 40 and her life is at a crossroads. She has been playing in a rock and roll band for going on 20 years and has never even tasted even the smallest scintilla of success. Her current gang, made up of lesbian lovers Sally (drums) and Faith (guitar) and a heavily into excess bass player named Tracy spend their days at regular jobs (tattoo parlor, teaching guitar), their evenings in rehearsal and the occasional couple of days of month gigging up and down the strip in LA. One night, Sally's brother, nicknamed Animal, shows up at the group's home. Recently released from prison, there is reluctance to let him stay. But soon he is part of their 'one big family' philosophy.
Also sniffing around is a no-good drug addict named Nick. He is Tracy's boyfriend. Since she is described as a "trust fund kid", this lowlife spots an easy mark. When their relationship takes a violent turn, Tracy leans on Jacki for help. Sally, unfortunately, bears the brunt of Nick's disgust. Soon, the whole band dynamic is falling apart. A manager named Chuck has promised them a record deal and a chance to open for a popular band on a national tour. But Jacki is unsure that the group is ready for a dedication to professionalism. When another tragedy threatens to implode the band once and for all, it's time for a gut check. Either the group, known as Clamdaddy, is gonna make it. Or they will all end up as Prey for Rock and Roll.
Prey for Rock and Roll can best be defined as a 50/50 movie. It gets 50% of its characterization and situations dead perfect. But the remaining half is so hackneyed, convoluted and just plain poor that it makes you sad for the material that is motoring along. The end result then is a film that just doesn't gel, a mishmash of contrivances and actual moments that can't decide if truth or the soap opera is the way to go. This is a movie that almost seems afraid to dig below the exterior of what people passionately pursuing music are made of. According to this surface selection of over-baked archetypes, anyone who wants to play in a band is the beneficiary of years of abuse, a confused sexual identity and a desire to get back at the world for pissing all over them so regularly. And while this may be true in real life, it's definitely the case for the one-dimensional clichés that pass as characters in this film. Surely the real world of rock must be a little more diverse. It's just hard to imagine members of the Beatles or the Smashing Pumpkins suffering the same Lifetime movie of the week wickedness that befalls our bandmates here. No one said the life of a barely working musical group was easy, especially in our post-MTV, prefab pop culture. But the members of Clamdaddy should be seeking a social exorcist for the amount of communal misfortune that aims for their amplifiers.
First, any movie that uses music as a backdrop for its plot is asking for a subjective segregation among its audience. Punk, or at least what Prey for Rock and Roll thinks is punk (the band here is more like a lame lipstick lesbian L7) will automatically scare off some filmgoers while entreat others. And then there will be those individuals with a direct connection and knowledge of the genre who will spend the entire 100-minute running time of this pathetic poseur ridiculing every aspect of it: the sideshow tattooed nature of Jacki; the incredibly juvenile non-rhyming rot of the lyrics; the rote power chord crap of the so-called anarchical anthems and the basic idea that, try as they might, these slumming Hollywood actresses just don't come across as a dive playing punk group. They just don't have the necessary heft or inspired musical chops to appear anything but fraudulent. Bands, like movies are built on chemistry and clique crafting. Prey for Rock and Roll has neither. Gina Gershon, as Jacki, may look like independent pin-up for electrified angst, but Lori Petty (as Faith) and Drea de Matteo (Tracy) are just mere caricatures of actual creative types. At least Shelly Cole (Sally) can beat those skins. She is the only one who seems completely at easy with her instrument and her role in a band. Say what you want about the fictional Clamdaddy, but they are sure no Slits. There not even a bargain basement Runaways.
Second, Prey for Rock and Roll has a very bad image about what makes up a woman. According to this three chord opera, you're not really a member of the opposite sex unless you are a self-deluded, lesbian with a past heavy in molestation and a present peppered with abusive relationships with all genders. Actually, some agenda based activist group should be all over this film for letting these ladies libel the very nature of victimization. Rape is like a right of passage in this film, from some fudged up dude's fantasy rig frig to the actual act against a main character. Even more disturbing is the casual manner in which underage molestation and parental incest is bantered about like getting the mumps or measles. Indeed, one imagines that Daddies bad touching their pre-teen daughters is something society should be developing a vaccine for. Forget AIDS and cancer, sexually soiling your child is the biggest adolescent issue according to Prey for Rock and Roll. Besides the fact that being mistreated as a child is now as formulaic as when classic cinema cried "orphan" or "street urchin", Prey for Rock and Roll also has no other answer for personal harm other than violence. Turning a manslaughtering male named Animal into a white knight, out to rid the world of all battering bullies and non-consensual copulators may seem like a shot at making up for how dreadfully men act in this film, but its eye for an eye message gets lost in the lust for revenge and the need for craven comeuppance. Women have fought long and hard and struggled not to play wounded to the world's wanton ways. Prey for Rock and Roll says that, if you want to make it in the metal world, better hope you were hornswoggled by someone close to you or you're not really a rocker...or a woman.
But perhaps the worst aspect of this movie is that it has no real passion for music. It often leaps from the loud and fast focus for long stretches, trying to keep the interpersonal pieces together. When we do delve beyond the fringe and into the outer layers of these individuals shattered lives, the movie actually starts to work. As long as the campy chestnuts are kept at bay and the lingo doesn't dissolve into psychobabble bullshit, we can actually start to see the starting point of a poignant drama. But more often than not, nothing new or nuanced is presented when so-called punks stop pretending and start getting real. Maybe the movie should have focused less on the social stigmas and more on the possible contract. We learn of the potential payoff for the decades of hard work early on in the narrative. But it seems to drift off into the ether before it is rediscovered and used as a kind of salve for the salvation of the band. Indeed, Prey for Rock and Roll would have been a lot better had it allowed for a little limelight to shine on these album chart charlatans before the roof caved in. But apparently, the production merely wants to dangle the career carrot in front of these long suffering ladies as they pile on the perils and pitfalls in an abhorrent excuse for drama. There is more than enough tragedy in songwriting, in perfecting your craft and faultlessly finding the connection with the people. If Prey for Rock and Roll had taken this angle more seriously, had simply stayed with the struggles of a band of almost able wannabes, it could have risen to a minor level of significance. But it has to hedge its bets and use traumas, not talent to sell its story.
As said before, the acting is only satisfactory. And the direction is a deceptive array of trick and tenets. Alex Stayermark, better known for putting together Top 40 favoring soundtracks for films like Swimfan, Tadpole and Bamboozled as a music supervisor gets his first crack behind the camera and his attempts at auteurism are forced and flaccid. He favors a production design that uses browns, blacks and sunlamp reds to sell a seedy sense of scenery. The color is completely desaturated, making everyone look dirty, smelly and a cough away from the coffin. He does have a knack for finding the truth in moments that call for it, but his lens is far too unfocused and fidgety to ratchet up the rock. And this all goes back to the film's part and parceled nature. Any subject hinted at hear: a rock band on the rise; a failed musical group in freefall; child abuse; rape; unexpected tragedy; family disgraces all could have individually made for a far more adventurous tale of the healing nature of shake and sway. But instead, Prey for Rock and Roll sticks around at the outskirts of the mosh pit, avoiding direct confrontation while talking up its supposed life of hard knocks to make something meaningful out of the pseudo songs being performed. Not all music has meaning. Some is just good old fashion balls to the wall primal passion. No, Prey for Rock and Roll is above all that heavy metal hi-jinx. It wants to wallow in garage band self pity for a while.
This is a very dark, dank movie and the transfer from Lion's Gate really trades on the ebony atmosphere. Occasionally dim and a little to flat, the 1.85:1 anamorphic image exhibits some of the film's experimental digital camera work (subtle ghosting exists in several places). Thankfully, director Stayermarks predilection for using red in all his nightclub scenes (don't they make spotlight gels in other colors) does not interfere with the picture. There is no bleeding or flaring at all.
For a movie trying to sell its rock and roll sound, Prey for Rock and Roll is not that impressive, sonically speaking. The Dolby Digital 5.1 can pulsate with big time bottom and bass bravado. But the high notes and harmonics get lost in the muddy mix, and the dialogue occasionally flies under the radar where it can hardly be heard. But just because the songs suck for the most part doesn't mean they come across crappy. Indeed, Prey for Rock and Roll unveils its serviceable soundtrack in a decent manner via either 2.0 or 5.1.
The only extra offered here, aside from a trailer, is a commentary track by director Alex Stayermark and it is very dry and very deliberate. Stayermark is especially proud of his work and he loves to gland hand himself whenever possible. There is not a lot of backstory to the production. We learn it was based on the real life of its punk rock and roller author. That Alex had no other leading lady in mind other than Gina Gershon. That he still finds some sequences hard to watch. And he loves to languish over the musical numbers, marveling at his own sense of direction and tone. Mostly an anecdotal trip through his memories of the movies making, it is worth o f a listen, but won't entertain you for long.
Pete Townsend of The Who used to believe in rock and roll as a religion, as a medium that provided the sole saving grace for disenfranchised youth and other lost souls. All it needed was a musical messiah, someone to lead the legions to the Promised Land to cement its universal significance. Sadly, that sonic savior has yet to appear. Instead, the world of pop has been poisoned by talentless teens that hope to cash in before their popularity disappears into a smaller category of crib. Rap and Hip Hop have all adopted the same Rod Tidwell desire to be paid first and played a distant second. All other categories of music are floundering in hyphenated groupings of grotesque inbreeding, resulting in Limp Bizkits, Puddles of Mud and Kid cock Rock. What rock and roll is today is as complicated and convoluted as the overall plot parameters of Prey for Rock and Roll. According to this cornball complexity of emotions and Epiphones, the state of music is one laced with catastrophe and addiction, a realm where everyone goes nowhere really rapidly when they're not skyrocketing to superstardom. For the members of Clamdaddy, the call of the stage and the adoration of the audience are too much to resist. They must, nay they HAVE to rock. Without it, they'd simply have to live their sad ordinary lives, filled with hidden pain and far too many personal ordeals. They may truly be the victims of a very broken dream. But to blame it all on the unbridled beat and buzzsaw hum of the guitar strum is crazy. Rock has always been about freedom and rebellion. Prey for Rock and Roll turns it into a tour of duty in purgatory. How fun.
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