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Women on the verge of rock 'n' roll fame

September 26, 2003|Manohla Dargis | Times Staff Writer

Gina Gershon is one of the best escape artists in movies. Graced with unassuming talent and a pugnaciously beautiful face, the actress has over the course of her storied career developed the curious ability to emerge from duds like "Showgirls" not merely unscathed, but somehow enhanced by such close brushes with ignominy. That ability to float above the wreckage has helped turn Gershon into a minor cult figure, beloved of both Web site worshipers and auteurs such as Olivier Assayas, the brainy French director who cast her in his rarefied techno thriller "Demonlover."

Of course, there's also the little matter of the snarl -- Gershon gives great snarl. Whenever she curls her upper lip, which she does with great frequency, the effect is not unlike a prizefighter clenching his fist; it's always a tossup whether you should take her dare or run for cover. Filmmaker Alex Steyermark gets the snarl and he gets Gershon, which is why he opens his enjoyable if crudely conceived first feature, "Prey for Rock and Roll," with close-ups of her character, a rocker named Jacki, primping for a big night on stage. As she flexes her tattooed fingers and wraps a wrist in leather, this chick is ready to step into the ring, notwithstanding the metallic sheen of her lip gloss and overflowing decolletage.

The part of a singer-guitarist who's been aching for a break for 20 long years fits Gershon like a pair of snug leather pants. Spitting her words like nails, the actress takes to Cheri Lovedog and Robin Whitehouse's screenplay as if she believed every syllable, and it's no wonder. In the 1980s, while Gershon was chasing ingenue parts in Hollywood, Lovedog headed up her own Los Angeles band. Lovedog never found rock 'n' roll fame, but she did ring up some underdog success by turning her experiences into a well-received musical, then a script. Like Gershon, she comes across as a trouper. She may rock like Chrissie Hynde's kid sister, but from the evidence of her screenplay, inside Lovedog there's a little Scarlett O'Hara shaking a fist at the sky and vowing a comeback.

That gives the movie a nice Gloria Gaynor-meets-L7 vibe, but it doesn't do much for its behind-the-music stake on verisimilitude. Schematic and overloaded with tragedy, "Prey for Rock and Roll" tracks the ups and downs of Jacki and her all-woman band as they tough it out in the wilds of the L.A. music scene and their own troubled lives. Some of what happens feels real, a lot doesn't, but even when the screenplay groans with cliches, the four lead actresses play their parts with truckloads of heart. Standing alongside Gershon, Drea De Matteo (as the dope-addled bassist), Lori Petty (as the Sapphic lead guitarist) and Shelly Cole (as a baby Bjork on drums) do more than strike the right poses. They honor every girl who's thrashed a guitar inside her bedroom and yearned for the world.

Rock 'n' roll is filled with women whose sole claim to fame rests in the words "I'm with the band." In his wistful reverie about the 1970s rock scene, "Almost Famous," Cameron Crowe immortalized the bed-ready female groupie with a character called Penny Lane, partly inspired by onetime Playboy centerfold and lifelong rock enthusiast Bebe Buell. Over the years, Buell formed bands of her own, but she will always be best known as one of those women who slept with Mick Jagger, as well as Todd Rundgren, Steven Tyler, Elvis Costello and the like. There's some kind of glory in that, perhaps. But "Prey for Rock and Roll" isn't a movie for girls who wanted to sleep with Jagger. It's for girls who wanted to be Jagger -- the ones who said, "I am the band."


'Prey for Rock and Roll'

MPAA rating: R, for language, sexual content, drug use and brief violence

Times guidelines: The whole sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll ball of wax, plus bloody tattooing.

Gina Gershon...Jacki

Drea De Matteo...Tracy

Lori Petty...Faith

Shelly Cole...Sally

Marc Blucas...Animal

Distributed by Mac Releasing. Director Alex Steyermark. Writers Cheri Lovedog, Robin Whitehouse. Producers Donovan Mannato, Gina Resnick, Gina Gershon. Director of photography Antonio Calvache. Production designer John Chichester. Costume designer Vanessa Vogel. Editor Allyson C. Johnson. Music supervisor Linda Cohen. Music arranged and produced by Stephen Trask. Original songs Cheri Lovedog. Casting Sheila Jaffe, Georgianne Walken. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.

Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.

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