If you're looking for a film about music that's a little out of tune and bound to anger purists and old people who like to say "but you weren't there!" then look no further than Randall Miller's punk homage "CBGB."
CBGB is the name of the iconic Lower East Side club that was practically the birthplace of the punk scene in the early seventies. Thousands of bands both large and small graced the doors (and legendary bathrooms), so you'd expect awesome performances by musicians in this film.
Except, you don't.
Instead you get the story of the enigmatic founder of CBGB's, an often scowling, but always charming guy named Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman). It would be novel to say Kristal came from humble beginnings, but the movie lets you know that they used a cup of creative license in making this movie. Baby Hilly is seen crawling out of his crib and wandering the countryside before nearly getting ran over by his parents. Apparently, kids raised on their parents chicken farms have the same extraterrestrial powers as those from Krypton.
Proving that great power and great responsibility don't always go hand in hand, the grown up Hilly is seen before a judge with a failed marriage and a failed attempt at bar ownership under his belt so what does he do? Get another bar, of course, this time in a place so rundown that the club's mascot is a violin playing heroin addict named Idaho (Freddy Rodriguez). Hilly's plan to create a home for country, bluegrass and blues quickly goes out the window when young musicians show up with a brand new sound.
While it's entertaining watching Hilly struggle to maintain sanity while walking the line of critical success and commercial bankruptcy, the one aspect that should have a major billing in the movie is the music and unfortunately it doesn't. The more you see bands such as Blondie, Ramones, Talking Heads, and the Patti Smith Group, the more cheated you feel by the non-stop lip-syncing. Not only is it lip-syncing, but it's from studio recordings. Live recordings, even from modern day would've gone a long way. It's too bad they were ignored.
Miller pulled out all of the stops in recreating the look and feel of the club, including using actual parts of the club (yes, they had the toilets). Malin Akerman as Blondie's Debbie Harry is obviously having fun on stage and there's a weird Seven Degrees of Sting moment where Keen McRae is a dead ringer for the leader of the Police as he lip-syncs a version of Roxanne, while real life daughter of Sting, Mickey Sumner, does a re-endition of Patti Smith's spoken word and delightfully fakes her way through "Because the Night" despite it being a little chronologically out of order.
Purists will likely beg for more Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, the Ramones or just more realism, but this isn't a VH1 "Behind the Music," which is too bad, because as entertaining as Hilly's biography is, "CBGB" was about more than the people who never got on stage.
"CBGB" MPAA: Rated R for course language, drug use, and sexual situations. Running time: 101 minutes. In limited release.