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SLC Punk!

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 30 April 1999

  Written and Directed by James Merendino.

Starring Matthew Lillard, Michael Goorjian,
Annabeth Gish, Jennifer Lien, Christopher McDonald,
Devon Sawa, Jason Segel, Adam Pascal, and Til Schweiger.


Don’t take the exclamation point in the title too seriously. This small, in-your-face, nostalgic slice of punk life found and lost in mid-1980s Salt Lake City (a.k.a. SLC) is a moderately enjoyable scourging of red-necks and Ronald Reagan. This anarchic, sometimes violent, fiction is based on the rebellious recollections of its writer and director, James Merendino, a Catholic searching for his identity in a Mormon state. As narrated by anti-abstinence Stevo (Scream’s hyper-kinetic Matthew Lillard, last seen in the dreadful Wing Commander), the film spurts backward and forward in jigsaw puzzle fashion, force-filling in the story and character gaps. It’s the first role that seems well-fitted for its star, whose nagging, earlier efforts tended to leave a noxious feeling in my stomach. Dolled up with blue hair (perhaps in tribute to the film’s creative entity, blue tulips productions, formed by Speed’s Jan De Bont and Michael Peyser to cultivate emerging cinematic talent), he pairs off well with navy blue rubber-booted, mohawk-coiffed, "Heroin" Bob (Party of Five’s Michael Goorjian), so named because of his fear of drugs and needles, yet, surprise!, he’s a chem major.

Merendino uses a lot of strong colors, aptly captured by his long-time collaborator, director of photography Greg Littlewood. "The colors are in the form of an arc, starting off cold, progressing to warm, then getting cold again… The punk movement was about color. They colored their hair, put make up on their faces and used a lot of ugly colors like florescent green and puke yellow." Thank goodness this film wasn’t shot in black-and-white. The parade of vegetative characters that embellish Merendino’s vision include Sean (Devon Sawa, starring in next week’s gross-out comedy-horror fiasco Idle Hands), a green-haired acid freak who gives the appearance that he recently stuck his hand in an electrical outlet, except for the fact that he’s always wearing mittens. Annabeth Gish (Mystic Pizza, Wyatt Earp, Nixon) is nearly unrecognizable under the heavy makeup, Cleopatra wigs, and multiple costume changes, but she fits in perfectly as Trish, Bob’s Bohemian goddess girl friend.

Stevo and Bob hustle from grunge party to slam pit, careening off their comrades and grabbing drugs from their radical carousel’s brass ring. As Stevo recounts meeting the witty and sexy Sandy (American History X’s Jennifer Lien), a geekish Mike (Jason Segel, resembling a Matthew Modine clone), or the rich and paranoid Mark (Til Schweiger), who lives off the blood money that wiped out his family in a European air wreck but spared a then eleven-year-old to suffer psychotic bouts with himself for years to come, our "hero" keeps bouncing back to milestones recalled from his past. Chief among these non-linear remembrances is the strained relationship with his baffled, divorced parents. Dad’s a red sweater pullover type who went to Woodstock before selling out to corporate America. He hopes only the best for his son, namely that he follow in his own false footsteps and attend Harvard Law School.

The rebels do find an occasional cause, such as fleeing the fascist state Utah for neighboring "Like No Place on Earth" Wyoming to score something better than the weak junk beer available at home. The blond-haired Eddie (Adam Pascal), a womanizing bloke, handles the gas-guzzling, black-finned Cadillac as it coasts into a border liquor outpost. Their appearance is greeted by the mom-and-pop owners much as if Martians just landed, until Eddie calmly explains that the proprietors should lend them countenance because they’re British. It’s a short, throw-away segment that exposes the weak script and attempt at witty dialogue. It customarily resolves itself in a brawl, an oft-used plot device battling punkers against members of the white rural working class or the cops.

SLC Punk ends on a disquieting note as the group slowly disbands and moves on to a responsible or other-world existence. Bob attempts to re-connect with his old man, but gets greeted by paranoid rantings about the CIA and gun shots, apparently a warning that it’s time to get on with your life. Soon after Bob takes an unexpected journey, forcing Steve into a dull, off-putting "like father, like son" fadeout. Having missed the punk scene entirely (I don’t regret it one bit), I found the film marginally disquieting and its characters described more through voice over and attire than by acting. It’s an adequate effort. No more, no less.

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