Punk's Dead: SLC Punk 2 is a failed coming-of-age story and Odyssey-inspired tale about a mopey goth kid who goes on a road trip with two mohawked and spiked friends and accomplishes nothing in the way of achieving an objective or growing as a character. The three principle characters have a tangential connection to the better-developed characters of the first SLC Punk film. One of the movie's biggest weaknesses centers around the absence of most of the ensemble that made the first movie far more engaging.
Where the first SLC Punk movie (1998) possessed an authentic feel for the era of early '80s hardcore punk and its outcast denizens, SLC Punk 2'S characters are so mired in the commodification of the subcultures they use to outline their identities that there is nothing at stake. Their identification with a seemingly non-mainstream youth culture as an expression of disenfranchisement is essentially meaningless, since punk rock style and music have already been normalized and absorbed into mainstream culture. The characters of SLC Punk 1 formed a group identity around the belief that they truly were freaks and weirdos among the straight-laced Mormon haven of Salt Lake City. The characters in the new film, like so many non-committed Millenials, have nothing to fight for. Punk's Dead's three youthful protagonists have little to prove within their self-imposed outcast status, and consequently, their goals and problems in the film are diminished.
Ross (Ben Schnetzer), Crash (rapper Machine Gun Kelly), and Penny (Hannah Marks) embark on a road trip from Ogden, Utah to Salt Lake City to attend an inexplicably large punk show. Director James Merendino uses the fast-paced collage style from the first SLC Punk movie (acquired from the editing and story structure of GoodFellas) to explain that Ross is the child of Trish (Sarah Clarke)and Heroin Bob (Michael Goorjian), both from the first film, and the latter of whom died before Ross was born. Ross takes on the identity of a mopey goth dandy as a way of dealing with the baggage of having a dead father he never knew. Ross's sad-sack goth style represents one of the youth subculture "tribes" that both SLC Punk films explore.
Along the way, Crash and Penny bicker, Ross sheds the Straight Edge ethos that haunts him from his father's grave, and Trish recruits acid casualty Sean (Devon Sawa) and John the Mod (James Duval), now the proprietor of a Black Metal shop, to find Ross and bring him back home. Trish learns that her son started drinking after having his heart broken in a goth nightclub.
As the three protagonists travel through the Utah landscape, Ross becomes increasingly inebriated and begins to shed his goth/romantic style and outlook. Like Matthew Lillard's Steve-O character in the first film, Ross learns that his sense of identity goes beyond his particular subculture's style of dress and music. But Ross's character arc is less defined than Steve-O's and carries almost no dramatic weight because Ross's Edgar Allen Poe/mopey emo kid style are not the hostile affront to mainstream mores that hardcore punk represented in the first film. As a result, Punk's Dead's focus on the newer generation of characters shows that they have nothing to struggle against. The punk sensibility and aesthetic used in the film are arbitrary and have no meaningful effect.
Ben Schnetzer's character is effete and boring, in contrast to Lillard's energetic, confrontational Steve-O. Steve-O's best friend Heroin Bob narrates Ross's uninteresting journey like a character from a half-baked modern day Odyssey. Sean and John the Mod have the best scenes in Punk's Dead and remind one of the energy and humor of the original film, which are two elements that are as conspicuously absent from the sequel as Steve-O himself. Absent from Punk's Dead are all of the interesting parts of SLC Punk, and we're left with a film that is as ineffectual as Ross himself.
Audio: Punk's Dead has surround stereo and presents no glaring problems on multi-speaker systems. Viewers with surround sound systems would be better off renting the original SLC Punk, simply for its stellar punk soundtrack, which is sorely missed in the sequel.
Extras: There are outtakes, but the best feature of the DVD is the conversational audio commentary by director Merendino and Goorjian, who banter about the making of the film and other things that are unrelated. Tellingly, Merendino describes the finished film as reconstructed.