Suck

3.5 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: September 6, 2009
Reviewed for the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival
Sound bites from the other side

The cinema’s insatiable appetite for all things vampire has just received a bloody musical helping of rock “n” roll that aims for the jugular then doesn’t let go.

Rob Stefaniuk’s ghoulish parable of just what a going-nowhere band would do to achieve fame and fortune looks great (cinematography, D. Gregor Hagey), sounds fine (original music John Kastner; many vivid, pulsating tracks) and moves snappily along the road trip to hell.

But by the time the last stake has been driven home, it’s hard to come away feeling much beyond, “Well, that was a freakishly!”

The lively-deadly cast features some great individual efforts. Seemingly on the other side of his sensational performance as Alex (A Clockwork Orange, cross-reference below), Malcolm McDowell flashes through his role as vampire exterminator Eddie van Helsing with style and panache that never seeks the spotlight of camp. Alice Cooper is ideal as the other-worldly bartender, dispensing sage career-altering advice with the same understanding as over-pouring a shot-on-the-house to ensure his target’s undivided attention.

The aging music producer is delightfully served by Iggy Pop; Henry Rollins has just the right mix of instant opinion and lecherous banter that artfully glues the scenes together as the radio DJ alerts his invisible fans to the next best musical thing. Musicians everywhere will savour the live interview with The Winners as his caustic cracks are soon lost in a frenetic feed by the insatiable red-eyed guests.

Dave Foley’s take on the beer-swigging, opportunistic band manager adds another layer of humanity even as the performers are first smitten then bitten by followers of the Prince of Darkness—his businesslike demeanour as a semi-alive groupie becoming the post-gig snack for the fully fanged performers is one of the film’s funniest, ironical moments. Would that there could have been more. (Any chance of reaching the same plateau of insight and yuks as a convenience store attendant—Danny Smith—offers a “suck” of his quivering drink to a suddenly long-in-the-tooth band babe was dashed by soiling the ears with a guitar-version excerpt from Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata—and in broad daylight, no less!)

As that Queen of the Damned (and devilish bass guitar player), Jessica Paré scores high on the dark side but can’t find enough innocence when just being Jennifer, a regular girl. Dimitri Coats (who also wrote a couple of the tracks—the film’s CD may outperform the box office), her hunky initiator, Queeny, is engagingly divine trying to keep his heart stake free and his followers well bled.

Much of the comic relief comes in the form of French-Canadian roadie, Hugo (Chris Ratz), whose frequently proffered neck finds no takers even as his limb-hacking skills are steadily honed.

At the centre of it all is Stefaniuk as band leader Joey (also including Paul Anthony and Mike Lobel—Lobel as the butt-of-worn-jokes drummer leaves the best impression while Anthony gamely fleshes out the group). Perhaps asking yourself to write the script, most of the songs, perform them and direct the whole project has been too much. There’s often the feeling of distraction instead of full-ahead characterization that living (well, mostly …) the main role demands.

Still, with so much to delight the eye (the term “air guitar” finally lives up to its billing; the animations are fresh, frivolous and fun), Suck is a film that’s well worth a peek. JWR

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