You’d be hard-pressed to find a more exhausting cinematic archetype than the self-destructive rock star. Such high-flying hedonists seek salvation and fulfillment in the extremes of an overindulgent lifestyle, where drugs, women, and the limelight are all equally powerful narcotics. Labeled “unpredictable” by their slightly more responsible peers, the rock-star diva actually follows a strikingly familiar path of emotional combustion, inevitably becoming isolated after betraying those who care most. Their broken-record memories are supposed to warn against excess, even though the slimy details are often projected through overly glamorous lenses.
Loose canons like Spyder (Kevin Zegers), the coke-head lead singer of the fictional band Lost Soulz in Scott Rosenbaum’s The Perfect Age of Rock ’N’ Roll, feel predetermined to experience such a rise-and-fall arc. But Rosenbaum’s juvenile attempt at melding the flashback structure of Citizen Kane with the nostalgic plot of Almost Famous makes these narrative contrivances all the more frustrating and simplistic. The Perfect Age of Rock ’N’ Roll opens with Spyder in hermit mode, locked away in his cavernous childhood home knee-deep in empty bottles of whiskey and heaps of trash. In an attempt to quell the guilt he feels for past indiscretions, Spyder invites a rock journalist (Lukas Haas) into his suburban tomb for a rare interview, unloading painful baggage regarding a life-altering experience some 20 years ago.
Spyder’s indulgent confessional centers around his tattered relationship with Eric (Jason Ritter), a childhood friend and guitar whiz primarily responsible for the hit songs on Lost Soulz’s debut album. After ditching Eric for fame and fortune years prior, Spyder now faces financial failure, hitting a creative brick wall on the band’s third record. Spyder returns home to reconcile his differences with Eric, hoping to strike lyrical gold again. As a form of payback, Eric counters with the road trip he always wanted to take with Spyder, a Route 66-inspired jaunt across the United States. Their mode of transportation is a classic caravan driven by an aging rock manager (Peter Fonda), and the close proximity invariably forces these characters to consider emotional reconnection.
There’s nothing inherently flawed about this nomadic and potentially life-affirming narrative, but Rosenbaum manages to instill every moment on the road with a sense of shrill conventionality. When the characters aren’t arguing about rock history or artistic license, Eric, Spyder, and the band’s sexy manager, Rosie (Taryn Manning), float through scenes like zoned-out ghosts. None of the relationships have a shred of organic feeling to them, and each betrayal is horribly transparent miles away on the horizon. “I was on this dysfunctional family road trip down a road that didn’t even exist,” Spyder flippantly says during one his many inane bits of voiceover narration. Passages like these further confound the thematic point behind his selfish and repetitive walk down memory lane.
The Perfect Age of Rock ’N’ Roll progresses exactly as one would expect, with the emotional turmoil between Eric and Spyder invariably forcing them to find a common ground and take one last stab at musical collaboration. Their pivotal shared moment comes during an impromptu jam session with blues legends Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, Sugar Blue, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, and Bob Stroger at an all-black club in the heart of the countryside. Flashes of life pop up during the energetic performance, but none of it comes from the conflicted relationship between the two lead characters. Interestingly, a quick cutaway to the great actor Michael K. Williams, who plays a small but pivotal role in the scene, has more power and resonance than the entire rest of the film combined.
When Spyder finally and expectedly fulfills his destiny as rock-star bastard, The Perfect Age of Rock ’N’ Roll finalizes its narrative regurgitation of better films. “Looking back, I really don’t know what I was searching for out there.” Spyder’s inane words are once again deathly ironic since every emotional and dramatic beat is spelled out for the audience to consume. Eric, whose gifts as an artist seem to be the only genuine element on display, is often overshadowed by the flashier dimwits surrounding him, forced into an archetypical box all his own. Ultimately, it’s hard not to see every character in The Perfect Age of Rock ’N’ Roll exactly how Spyder describes them late in the film: wastes of space. Just remember it takes one to know one, pal.