Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Before a screener of SLC Punk came across my doorstep, I don't think I'd ever even heard of the film. I might have seen some mention of it on other websites, but that was the extent of my knowledge before I watched it. A film about punks in Salt Lake City during the mid-1980s? Hmm - looked like another stinker from the freebie pile.
Happily, however, I found SLC Punk to be surprisingly provocative and entertaining. While its subject matter certainly held the possibility that it would be a corny film that would try far too hard to milk the "fish out of water" theme implied by the title, it didn't do so. Indeed, SLC Punk really had very little that stuck to that concept. Instead, the film was more of a "coming of age" story that ultimately reminded me of many of those John Hughes movies from the 1980s.
Usually when I make a statement such as that, it's an insult; I wasn't that wild about the Hughes films at the time, and I don't think they've aged terribly well. However, I felt differently about SLC Punk partially because it seemed less predictable and routine. Indeed, I didn't actually figure out that it would take that "coming of age" route until more than halfway through the picture; up until that point, it seemed more like a fun comedic romp through the characters' lives.
The film slowed down a great deal as it became more real toward the end. This made the movie less frenetic and wildly entertaining, but it also added a level of realism. I must admit that I found some of the twists and turns to seem contrived, but they didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the movie.
SLC Punk clearly wasn't a perfect film, or even a great one, but it's very good and I found it to be quite entertaining. I liked the fact that although it easily could have gone the "period piece" route of something like The Wedding Singer, it didn't do so. Indeed, the film barely revealed its era; if we weren't told it was 1985 and occasionally reminded that Reagan was in the White House, it could have been from any year between 1979 and today.
That's because of the strange quality of punks: they're eternally stuck in the late Seventies. I think punks are like goths; there'll always be this little cult of teens who buy into that look and sound and it'll never change. Despite various bits of publicity, punks never had all that big a scene, and their image has not changed one iota since they emerged in the mid Seventies. That meant that the characters of SLC Punk easily could be in a film that's set today but nothing would have to be changed; right now there are teens out there who look and act exactly like these folks.
Happily, SLC Punk didn't take too many cheap shots at its locale, either. As I mentioned earlier, the concept of punks in Salt Lake City (aka "The Conservativist Place On Earth") easily could have been milked for broad laughs at the expense of the locals, but the film rarely did that. Again, just as our characters could be from any year in the last twenty, the location could be almost anywhere in the US. Yeah, it had to be somewhere not too hip, but that appellation fits the vast majority of the country.
Ultimately, the film concentrated more on the quirks of its characters and their stories than it did the locale and the premise. In that way, it's a lot like something such as Pulp Fiction; much of the entertainment in that film came from interactions that had little to do with the characters' careers ways of life. SLC Punk wasn't on a level with Pulp Fiction, but it's awfully witty and clever nonetheless.
Much of the film's energy came from a charged performance by Matthew Lillard as our lead character, Stevo. I'm not sure Lillard has much of a range, as he sure likes to mug and go over the top. However, he worked well here. He brought just the right level of smugness and obnoxiousness to Stevo but still kept him likable. Michael Goorjian was also quite good as Stevo's buddy Heroin Bob; he portrayed him as goofy and sort of dopey but nicely grounded and human as well.
Chalk up SLC Punk as a pleasant surprise. A period piece that doesn’t reek of nostalgia and a “coming of age” tale that mostly lacks sentimentality, Punk provides a funny and entertaining flick.
The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B / Bonus B-
SLC Punk appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Most of the movie presented a solid picture, but a few encoding issues knocked my grade down a bit.
Sharpness worked well. The movie consistently looked crisp and detailed. Even during wide shots, the film remained distinct and accurate. While jagged edges weren’t a concern, I noticed occasional shimmering, and some light edge enhancement showed up periodically. Some compression artifacts appeared as well and gave the movie a mildly digital look at times. The print betrayed occasional specks and marks, but they didn’t cause a consistent problem.
At times colors looked a little dense, but they usually seemed solid. The movie enjoyed a pretty wide palette, and the hues demonstrated generally good accuracy and saturation. The colors mostly remained clear and distinct. Black levels appeared tight and deep, and low-light shots were cleanly detailed and easily visible. Some of the artifacts and print issues kept the image from greatness, but SLC Punk still offered a good image.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of SLC Punk merited similar thoughts. Given the flick’s low budget and subject matter, I expected little from the soundfield, but the film actually displayed a surprisingly broad spectrum. Music dominated the mix and presented very good stereo imaging as well as solid reinforcement from the surrounds. Effects didn’t play as major a role, but they added some nice dimensionality to the proceedings. A few sequences like one with a gun and another with a perceived nuclear blast brought the action to life well, and the movie often created a good sense of atmosphere and place. Localization and blending were positive, and the surrounds gave us fine depth.
Audio quality was generally fine. Speech seemed like the weakest link. The lines consistently sounded intelligible and usually were acceptably natural, but they came across as somewhat flat and dull more than just a few times. Music appeared pretty crisp and vibrant, as both the songs and score sounded rich and detailed. Effects seemed accurate and free from defects, and the whole package presented solid bass response as necessary.
One problem with the soundtrack stemmed from the extremely low level at which the DVD’s producers mastered it. I needed to crank my receiver’s volume knob significantly higher than normal, and that decreased the track’s range. Louder elements came across fine, but quieter ones sometimes got a little lost because they became a bit tough to hear. This wasn’t a massive concern, but without the quiet mastering, the audio for SLC Punk would have jumped to a “B+”.
The DVD of SLC Punk won't qualify as a real special edition, but it supplies a few solid supplements. The best and most significant offers an audio commentary from director James Merendino and actors Matthew Lillard and Michael Goorjian, all of whom sit together for this running, screen-specific track. (Note that Lillard arrives late and Goorjian leaves early.) It's a very loose and fun affair as all parties crack on each other and various aspects of the film; actually, Goorjian mainly stays on the sidelines as Lillard and Merendino hassle each other, and it's very entertaining. Quite a few good notes about the movie emerge between the jokes, as we learn about the structure, how the actors worked, and other useful elements. By the way, keep an ear out to hear Merendino bite the hand that feeds him when he talks about co-executive producer Jan De Bont; his moderately nasty remarks seem semi-tongue in cheek, but not terribly - you be the judge! Merendino's definitely more open than the usual "I love everybody involved with this production!" commentator.
One other semi-cool feature is the inclusion of an isolated musical score. This should be nice because of the usage of so many different songs, but one failing sabotages it: no one adjusted the sound to take into account the lack of dialogue and effects. As such, if the volume of a song decreased during the film because a character had to speak, the same thing happens hear. Clearly the levels should have been adjusted so the music would stay constant, but that didn't happen. As such, I think the utility of this track is diminished, but it's there if you want to hear the songs in a clearer form than occurs during the film.
One unusual addition to this DVD is a comic book that features characters from SLC Punk. No, there's not a physical comic book in the DVD case; instead, the pages of the magazine have been shot as still pages. I'm not completely sure what the deal with this thing is. It's pretty clear that the film wasn't based on a comic book, and my guess is that the comic was done after the movie as promotion, but I've been unable to find out for certain. Anyone who knows more - tell me, please! Anyway, it's a little awkward and tedious to navigate but it's pretty interesting and fun and it definitely worth a look.
Finally, the SLC Punk DVD includes a few regulars. We see two trailers - one for SLC Punk and one for Go - plus two pages of text production notes are included in the DVD booklet. These are quite basic but are informative and are worth the minute or two it'll take you to read them.
As a film, SLC Punk is flawed but fun and made for a surprisingly entertaining viewing experience. It won't be to everyone's liking - it's too outrageous and profane for that - but for those who enjoy that style of clever comedic filmmaking, it should do the trick. The DVD provides fairly good image and sound and even a few decent supplements, including a funny audio commentary. SLC Punk is definitely worth a rent and I think that if you go out on a limb and buy a copy, you'll ultimately be happy that you did so; it's a fresh and fun film that I regard as a keeper.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5324 Stars|| Number of Votes: 77|