`Punk' rants but gets no raves

Movie review

April 23, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

"SLC Punk!" stars Matthew Lillard as Stevo, a frustrated teen-ager living in Salt Lake City at the height of the Reagan era. Disgusted by politics, oppressed by Utah's Mormon majority, Stevo and his friends lash out by becoming punks, spiking their hair into blue and green abstractions, dropping lots of drugs and generally doing their best to scare the grown-ups.

They only succeed sporadically (one kid takes too much LSD and winds up threatening his mother with a kitchen knife), but that shouldn't come as a surprise from kids who are engaging in a gang fight one minute and scheduling soccer practice the next.

"SLC Punk!," which was written and directed by James Merendino, has a ring of truth to it -- Merendino himself was a disgruntled teen in Salt Lake City in the 1980s -- and the rebel-without-a-clue rage that seethes through these hormone-addled youths will be familiar to anyone who was one or is raising one.

The question is, does anyone want to pay to see it again?

Lillard ("Scream," "She's All That") makes an undeniably charismatic tour director through this travelogue of parties, hangovers and aimless afternoons. And his encounters with his father, a former hippie, are amusing. (Stevo thinks his dad, now a lawyer, sold out. Dad prefers to say that he "bought in.")

Merendino steals from the best -- an early scene of a beating bows to Scorsese, and a later scene involving -- what else? -- a crazy drug dealer, who himself recalls Peter Lorre, looks an awful lot like a similar sequence in "Boogie Nights."

But for all its verisimilitude and occasional flashes of ingenuity, "SLC Punk!" never manages to be more than a desultory, self-indulgent rant worthy of Stevo himself. As a document of youthful frustration and angst, "SLC Punk!" know whereof it speaks. It just doesn't know exactly why.

`SLC Punk!'

Starring Matthew Lillard, Michael Goorjian, Annabeth Gish, Jennifer Lien

Directed by James Merendino

Released by Sony Pictures Classics

Rated R (pervasive language, drug use, violent anti-social behavior and some sexuality)

Running time 97 minutes

Sun score:**

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