SLC Punk!
Director: James Merendino
Screenplay: James Merendino
Cast: Matthew Lillard, Michael Goorjian, Annabeth Gish
NY Distribution Status: now playing (Sony Classics)

Grade: D+

"SLC," in case you're wondering, stands for "Salt Lake City," where this shrill, schizophrenic movie is set...but it could just as easily be an acronym (or an initialism, technically, I suppose -- the distinction seems silly to me) for Sorta Like Counterfeit. The music on the soundtrack -- Ramones, Generation X, Dead Kennedys -- conjures up the proper anarchic mood, but the main characters are the most unconvincing, straight-laced, terminally nerdy "punks" imaginable, and it's a sign of how muddledheaded the movie is that I spent most of its running time trying to determine whether or not that was supposed to be the point. Was Merendino attempting to tell the story of a couple of bona-fide punks trapped in ultra-conservative Utah? Or did he intend to paint an affectionate portrait of the Rebellion-Lite that passed for punkdom thereabouts? Either take on the subject would've been potentially dandy; instead, the film eschews fish and fowl alike, opting for a fuzzy, incoherent middle ground that veers repeatedly from Sid-and-Nancy to Bill-and-Ted and back again. (A scene featuring the pair as pre-adolescent D&D-playing Rush-worshipping dweebs, which seems to confirm the more puckish viewpoint, would have been a lot more effective had it appeared in the first or second reel, rather than the last -- and had it not been contradicted, for example, by the viciousness of an unprovoked baseball-bat assault on alleged rednecks.) Matthew Lillard (Scream), playing his first leading role, fails to demonstrate that he's capable of anything more than his trademark sneer, and is saddled with a lot of second-rate on-camera what-fourth-wall? narration to boot; when the film unexpectedly veers into tragedy, his attempt at pathos is embarrassing (though no more so than Merendino's). The best thing in the movie is Christopher McDonald (the host in Quiz Show) as Lillard's well-meaning ex-hippie dad...but then, McDonald's the best thing in virtually every movie in which he appears, so no surprise there.