“You’re not a hack; you’re a poser, wanker dick…”
Although this blog is generally centred on music and musicians, a film that comments on the music industry and features cameos from names like Henry Rollins, Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop seems on topic enough that I feel comfortable blogging it here for you all. And thus, may I present to you a review on the film Suck, the film that asks how far a band will go for fame.
The brainchild of Rob Stefaniuk (writer/star/director of Phil The Alien), Suck is the story of the band The Winners, who are anything but; in fact, their failure goes beyond a painful irony to just pathetic. Playing yet another poorly attended gig at a Montreal bar (staffed by Alice Cooper and his daughter Calico Cooper), Joey Winner (Stefaniuk) is slinging back a pity beer while listening to his lacklustre sleazeball manager Jeff (The Kids In The Hall’s Dave Foley) quit his position, right before Jeff promised to work magic at a showcase gig at the CMJ festival. Adding to Joey’s woes are the dismal songs he writes and the tension between him and ex-girlfriend/bassist Jennifer (a brilliant Jessica Paré). When Jennifer bails for the night with a creepy looking gentleman, refusing to sleep in the band’s hearse (that’s right, kids; they don’t have a van – they drive a hearse), Joey’s had about all he can take. When Jennifer fails to show for their drive to Toronto’s gig, the band leaves without her.
Where is Jennifer? Why, she’s gone to a party of the damned, where she is transformed into a speedy, thirsty, shapeshifting creature of the night. Her arrival in Toronto creates quite the stir: she’s gothed out, her eyes are a glowing shade of blue, and the other band expected on the bill, The Itchies, have mysteriously cancelled, despite her insistence they drove her to the gig. Adding insult to the injury of having had to bum $100 to eat off his TV star girlfriend (Nicole de Boer), Joey gets creamed by her beer bottle when Jennifer struts onto the stage and mesmerizes the crowd – so much so they demand an encore despite the lead singer being unconscious.
The hijinks continue to roll from here, with poor French-Canadian roadie Hugo (Chris Ratz, whose comic timing carries the film through moments that would fall completely flat without him) discovering Jennifer’s secret as she turns a convenience store clerk into a walking Slurpee and being recruited to dismember her victims to conceal her thirst (and protect her from a vampire hunter, played by Malcolm McDowell). As the band’s fame (and Jennifer’s body count) climbs, the question the members face after years of failure is this: how far would you go to find fame? Is vampirism worth the applause and notoriety?
One of the film’s strongest points is the use of clever cameos throughout, plunking musicians into non-musician roles and setting them loose in Stefaniuk’s world, where quips and self-deprecating humour reign supreme. In fact, the only musician who sings is Moby, hilariously cast as Beef Bellows, lead singer of the band Secretaries of Steak, a band whose rabid fans throw raw meat at the stage. If seeing the staunchly vegan and quiet artist doing his best Trent Reznor covered in leather and fake blood isn’t hilarious enough, his stoned bashing of “Frenchie” that leads Hugo to happily ship him off to death by Jennifer is equally delicious. By the time he invites Jennifer to meet ‘Baby Beef’, your chest will be aching with laughter.
Iggy Pop delivers a pseudo-producer with a slant of Ted Nugent in the form of Victor, who immediately sees through Jennifer’s new look, prompting him to warn Joey that he’s learned two things in life: “Always use a condom. Never trust a goddamn vampire!” His ‘Commodore’ equipment fits right in with the band’s struggling aesthetic. Henry Rollins, as radio shock jock Rockin’ Roger, rants in his typical fashion, only with a mullet, which elevates him to a new high even as the band slaughters him for his insolence. Alex Lifeson of the iconic band Rush delivers as a customs agent with a performance that’s as much about his subtle actions as the dialogue, and it, too, is a highlight segment of the film.
As for Alice Cooper (did you really think he’d merely pop in for a minute as a sympathetic barkeep?), he continues to reappear, counselling and warning poor Joey in a crossroads delusion, his words creepier and thereby funnier with each appearance on screen. By the time you hit the punchline to his final conversation with Joey, you’re thinking that Stefaniuk is a genius for landing him (and that maybe Alice is paying Canada back for that nasty Toronto riot in the 80s which, by the way, nearly killed me in utero – but that’s another story…).
The film itself is incredibly solid overall, although certain scenes lag and could likely be cut or dashed with more Hugo perhaps to save them; in fact, every time I felt the film lag a bit, the one bright spot was whatever line Chris Ratz was delivering. These moments are generally few and far between, although they do unfortunately cluster towards the final scenes, which drops the funny meter on the film at its climax. There are those who might find some of the humour too cutesy-shtick (example: Alice Cooper stating, “Welcome to my nightmare!”), but I personally found them sporadic enough that they were simply funny. The obvious toy car in the driving sequences is a sight gag that eventually lost its humour from overuse. Where the film goes right is the use of the cameos to bring out the best in the actors, particularly Ratz and Paré, whose sense of comedic delivery is on par with Amanda Seyfried’s hilarious turn as Karen in Mean Girls. When she and Ratz are one-on-one in a scene, I can’t stop laughing.
Stefaniuk’s humour is primarily based on wordplay and irony, making it less of a Superbad and more of a comedic cousin to Ginger Snaps; this may hurt Suck in wide release with the masses, but the film is better this way, even when it does occasionally misfire. It functions as a subtle parable on fame and society, with subtle commentary slid into brief moments and quickly left behind; for example, a sequence with Malcolm McDowell’s vampire hunter being asked if he has weapons while crossing into America, and being heartily welcomed home when he declares he has ‘lots’ without so much as a car inspection, is funny precisely because it doesn’t belabour the point. Another one-line jab at the Jonas Brothers had the audience cheering wildly, yet also slyly brought in the comparison of two bands that are, in Suck’sworld, popular primarily due to appearances, as opposed to musical merit.
And really, isn’t that the point of a film about a band that ironically sucks less when its members begin to drain the life out of people (and cows)? That we are a society where anyone can make it, given the right gimmick? That even Stefaniuk is selling out, drawing on the vampire hype of our times to execute a film that will surely be a cult classic on par with Repo! The Genetic Opera at bare minimum? Suck may give us plenty of reasons to laugh, but it’s far more clever than it seems. And that’s what makes this film a worthy selection of the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, and a parable in Hot Topic and fangs of our pop culture.