Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 #40 SLC Punk 2: Punk's Dead (2016)
With this website, and pretty much all other endeavors, I aim to please. That is particularly true of Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 entries. When a reader believes in me enough to pay between seventy five and one hundred dollars for me to watch and then write about a movie of their choosing, I want them to feel satisfied with their investment. I want them to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, that their hard-earned scratch is not being squandered.
I’d like to think that the overwhelming majority of Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 participants are happy with the work I’ve done for them, and for humanity. The number of repeat customers I’ve wracked up suggests that I must be doing something right but I nevertheless worry that patrons will be disappointed, at the very least, if they pay me one hundred dollars to rhapsodize about some personal favorite of theirs and I pan it, or, alternately, if they want me to pan a movie and I end up loving it.
It brought me no pleasure, for example, to write witheringly of earlier Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 entry SLC Punk! Writer-director James Merendino’s 1999 coming of age comedy-drama about Matthew Lillard sticking it to the man as Utah’s angriest punk connected with a cult audience in a very real and very personal way. It was a movie that mattered to people, that resonated with a loyal fanbase who saw their own conflicts and aspirations reflected in the tragicomic misadventures of the film’s characters.
People who love SLC Punk! really fucking love it. They really fucking love it in a manner inextricably rooted in nostalgia and memory and youthful hormones and sex and loud rock and roll music and everything else that makes being young bearable. They love it because it is a rock and roll movie and a punk rock movie and a part of their adolescence. I respect the hell out of that.
There are few things in the world I love more than a rock and roll movie. Not too long ago, I gushed of my swooning affection for Neil Young’s 1982 mind-fuck Human Highway. I wanted to love SLC Punk! I really did. Instead I fucking hated it with an intensity that is the flip side of blind adoration.
I was not able to muster any kind of similar enthusiasm for its little-loved, late-in-the-game, crowd-funded sequel, 2016’s Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2. It’s a weird footnote of a follow-up even cultists whose generosity helped make the sequel an unfortunate reality didn’t seem to like very much.
The cult of SLC Punk! Is very much the cult of Matthew Lillard. His asshole charisma elevated something endlessly self-congratulatory and small into something special and loved. So it is a terrible sign that Lillard is completely missing from this go-round, as is Jason Segel, whose star has risen somewhat in the nearly two decades separating SLC Punk! and its wildly anti-climactic follow-up.
Instead of Lillard, we get a heaping posthumous helping of his SLC Punk! sidekick Heroin Bob, who got his ironic nickname from his habit of never doing any drug, let alone heroin. Then he died of an overdose. How crazy is that? I’m sorry, how FUCKING crazy is that?
A long dead Heroin Bob narrates Punk’s Dead from what looks like a sick-ass squat in purgatory in the sing-song, gratingly mannered cadences of a slam poet fond of emphasizing words at random even WHEN it serves NO purpose. It’s Heroin Bob’s time to shine, baby! Who needs that Shaggy-ass Lillard dork! We got Heroin Bob, everybody’s favorite character of all time, from the way the movie treats him.
A good sense of Heroin Bob’s in-your-face, totally extreme “attitude” can be discerned from the characteristically over-written narration that begins the film. We open on Ross, a foppish Goth dandy, getting stomped at a punk show as Bob rambles, “Stop, stop, stop! See that kid there, getting beaten to death by a bunch of angry punks? That happens to be my son Ross. I can’t FUCKING help him! You wanna know why? Cause I’m DEAD! You want to know what else is dead” before the opening credits suggest that, yes, punk is also dead.
Getting beaten up is pretty damn punk! And going to a punk show? You know THAT’s punk! Being dead? That’s so fucking punk Sid Vicious and Jim Carroll both did it. Punk being dead? That’s literally much more punk than punk being alive. Everything? Also punk.
Swearing needlessly? That’s punk as fuck, shitbird. In fact, SLC Punk 2: Punk’s Dead has a tidy little formula it returns to over and over again. The equation works something like this: (anything in the world)+ the word fuck=punk rock. Say you’re going to Target, for example. You could say “Hey, I’m going to Target. Does anyone want anything?” like a soft-ass square, or you could say, “Hey, I’m going to FUCKING Target. You assholes want anything?” Like a real punk rock badass.
By SLC Punk 2 standards, and only by those standards, Heroin Bob is a real punk rock badass. Of his SPAWN (that’s a cool, punk rock way to refer to a child), who looks and acts like he’s about to audition for a high school musical version of Interview With a Vampire, “There are no labels for Ross, he’s FUCKING complicated.”
Bob profanely ends his opening rant, which takes up about five percent of the movie’s sixty-seven minute runtime, “Oh, and by the way? My name is BOB, and 19 years ago, this is where I FUCKING died.”
Whoa! Cool it with the attitude, there, Bob! We don’t want everyone to OD on punk before the movie even starts! Can you believe this guy? With that potty mouth and that attitude? Rather, can you FUCKING believe him?
Heroin Bob spends so much time introducing characters, and reintroducing characters and telling us how cool and weird and different everyone is that it doesn’t leave much room for an actual movie, which is good, since this feels more like a fan film tribute to SLC Punk than a proper follow-up.
Ross, you see, is something of a foppish romantic, the kind of tool who asks of classmate he wishes to court, “If I may, may I call on you this evening?” She says he might and Heroin Bob sarcastically, sneeringly says of his only begotten son’s new love, “And so young Ross’ child fell into the clutches of romance, believing completely in the virtues of his young maiden as if she was the Virgin Mother herself.”
You can probably guess what comes next: Ross sees his lady fair boning some dude and is instantly and completely disillusioned. Despite being told by Heroin Bob himself that Ross is so straight-edge he doesn’t even hang out with the straight edge crowd, Ross decides to get smashed and go to what we are told is a “Punk concert.”
Yes, punk concert. No bands, no acts, just the genre of the music that will be performed. That would be like a Hip Hop movie focussing on its characters wanting to go to a big rap show, with dialogue along the lines of, “Man, I can’t wait to go to the rap show! Between the rappers and the DJs and all the break-dancers, it’s going to be FRESH! I just hope haters don’t ruin everything!”
Ross refers to punk concerts as being full of “the writhing stench of humanity.” Yet he nevertheless has a powerful familial connection not just to the punk scene but to probably the greatest punk of all, way better than whatever shitty character that poser Matthew Lillard played in the original: Heroin Bob. Heroin FUCKING Bob, man. Now THERE is a FUCKING punk.
"You know my father was a punk” Ross tells his traveling companions mohawked rebel Crash (rapper Machine Gun Kelly) and Penny (Hannah Marks), to which Penny tersely replies, “Yeah, no shit. Everyone knows that story.”
But why would they, other than Heroin Bob being a character in a cult movie? According to SLC Punk!, Heroin Bob went to some shows, talked a lot of shit and died young, having accomplished nothing. Yet the way people talk about Heroin Bob here, you’d think he was a cross between Ziggy Stardust, Sid Vicious and Jesus Christ.
Ross’ “totally eccentric” mother, who operates a steam-punk oddities boutique like the Mommy Pixie Dream Girl she is, says of her beloved Heroin Bob, “When he was alive, he was something to behold.”
No, he wasn’t. When he was alive, Heroin Bob was a pretentious pile of crap. He’s only grown more worthless and insufferable in death.
Penny is vaguely depicted early on as a lesbian, or asexual, or quite simply not attracted to men in a manner that does nothing to hide, or even disguise, the inevitability that she will be one of those distressingly ubiquitous stock figures in teen sex comedies and romantic comedies: the quirky, supportive friend who nurses a barely concealed crush on our unknowing protagonist, and will inevitably end up with him once he comes to his senses and realizes the girl of his dreams has been alongside him all along.
But to make things edgy and punk and create unnecessary conflict, Hannah spends a lot of time calling Ross a homophobic slur that starts with F. And when Ross responds to Hannah’s abusive father smacking her in the face with muted concern, she replies by screaming at him, “Hey pretty boy, when you produce a living father, you can talk about mine so shut the fuck up about mine.”
En route to the big punk concert, the trio picks up an African-American with dreadlocks who, in a surprising, not at all racist turn of events, is a wise drug dealer who is totally cool with white people touching his hair. When Ross sees that the hitchhiker has a sack full of dried-up mushrooms he does what any reasonable human being would do and grabs a giant handful of mushrooms and starts masticating them noisily.
Only these are no ordinary mushrooms. No, they’re psilocybin mushrooms that instantly transform Ross from the sort of punch-worthy dandy who says things like “I’m not like the rest of the teeming masses. I have perspective, okay? There will be no retching over matters of the heart for me!” to a totally chill, cool, go with the flow type of guy who is all about living in the moment.
Ross is so overcome with positive vibes and chill emotions that he takes the stage at the big punk rock show to tell the audience that he wants to fuck all of them, and thinks about them as his bitches. He means it in a positive way. In his doped-up, blissed out brain, it all makes sense. The crowd does not respond positively.
For all of its insufferable attitude, Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2 is really a small, insignificant trifle, a 1980s-style teen sex comedy short on sex but long on posturing that just happens to take place in the SLC Punk! universe.
Like its predecessor, SLC Punk 2’s one redeeming facet is its music. The soundtrack, which features big names like David Bowie and Joy Division, has an energy and a momentum and a sense of raucous, irreverent humor the rest of the movie desperately lacks.
This muddled, underwhelming cinematic hymn to the life-affirming power of punk rock would be much more bearable if it weren’t so desperately in love with itself and its hopelessly inflated sense of its own outrageousness and transgression.
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