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With: Matthew Lillard, Michael A. Goorjian, Annabeth Gish, Jennifer Lien, Christopher McDonald, Devon Sawa, Jason Segel, Adam Pascal, Til Schweiger, James Duval, Summer Phoenix, Chiara Barzini, Kevin Breznahan, Christina Karras, Russell Peacock
Written by: James Merendino
Directed by: James Merendino
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, drug use, violent anti-social behavior and some sexuality
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/24/1998

SLC Punk! (1999)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Salt Lake and Pepper

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Not your standard festival fare, SLC Punk! migrates from the San Francisco International Film Festival this week for regular release.

Matthew Lillard (Scream & She's All That) stars as Stevo, a punk living in Salt Lake City (that's the "SLC" of the title) in the middle 1980s. Stevo and his best friend Bob (Michael Goorjian) have just finished college, "doing more damage from inside the system than they could from outside," and are now living a life of anarchy. They have a bare-essentials apartment, and basically hang around, go to parties, beat up rednecks, and eschew the establishment. The movie is told in semi-flashback form with Stevo introducing us to characters while the action is going on around him. Several unconnected stories about what punks do in Salt Lake City are tied together by Stevo and Bob.

Most of these stories are funny. One punk gets caught with 200 hits of acid, runs through a sprinkler trying to get away, and finds that all 200 hits have soaked through his jeans pocket into his skin and fried his brain. Another punk tortures our heroes by making them listen to lectures about his new high-tech appliances when all they want is to buy drugs from him. When the "most hardcore band in England" comes to a Salt Lake City party they're scared off. Then there's Mike (Jason Segel), a guy with glasses and short hair who dresses in polo shirts but "is the most hardcore guy I know," Stevo says as Mike slams a guy's head into the wall.

Stevo also explains his theories on anarchy and the pecking order of the other classes of youth in Salt Lake City: the mods, the rednecks, the poseurs, the new wavers ("they don't beat up on anybody because they're like hippies"), and so on. And best of all, we get to listen to a vintage collection of music from the Ramones, the Stooges, Adam and the Ants, Generation X, Blondie, the Velvet Underground, the Adolescents, the Specials, and the Dead Kennedys.

The strange thing about Stevo is that he has excelled at both high school and college. His father (Christopher McDonald) is a successful yuppie with whom Stevo verbally spars at every opportunity. In the end, however, anarchy can't last forever, So one must make a future for oneself, the movie seems to shrug. The movie's best moment comes in the epilogue. A young Stevo is in a basement getting ready to play Dungeons and Dragons and listening to Rush. Bob shows up having reached an epiphany. He puts on a tape of Generation X. "Rush is very talented," Stevo protests. "This is new," says Bob. And they listen to "Kiss Me Deadly," their first punk song.

I guess SLC Punk! got to me because I was a closet punk in the 1980's -- behind my ordinary-looking facade I listened to some great punk music -- and because my family comes from Salt Lake City, which may be the most religiously repressed city in America. The point of the movie is that each young generation must invent a theme for itself, and that once it does and it catches on, it's already dead. It's just meant to get you through those awkward years. It gives you something to believe in just long enough to grow up.

Watching this movie reminded me of watching Suburbia, Repo Man, and Sid and Nancy as a teen. I doubt if today's audience of 10 Things I Hate About You will have any idea what SLC Punk! is trying to do. I think the audience for this movie is the slightly older Generation X. SLC Punk! offers nostalgia rather than guidance.

The other question is whether that older audience will be able to tolerate the spastic Lillard as Stevo for 90 minutes. All I can say is that he didn't really bother me.

SLC Punk! is directed by James Merendino who started his career at age 23 with B-movies like Witchcraft IV: Virgin Heart (1991) and Tough Guy (1994), and continues in that same B-movie spirit with SLC Punk!. The movie co-stars Annabeth Gish (Mystic Pizza), Jennifer Lien (American History X), Devon Sawa (Idle Hands), and Summer Phoenix (The Faculty).

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