He might take his time between projects, but over the past decade, Alex Proyas consistently proves why he’s one of the best sci-fi directors around. He’s done rather well when adapting material (The Crow, I, Robot), but it was 1998’s stunning Dark City, which Proyas also wrote, that established the Australian director as a singular talent, as the film deftly combined the dark themes and visuals of film noir, an homage to Fritz Lang’s silent film Metropolis, cutting-edge special effects, and a mesmerizing, thought provoking story that puts the entire, highly pretentious Matrix saga to shame today. So it was a bit of a surprise when Proyas emerged last year with, of all things, a rock ‘n’ roll comedy.
A former music video director, Proyas is clearly a man in love with rock music, as he has fun with the one fantasy that everyone has dreamed of at least once in their lives, that being rock ‘n’ roll stardom. That whole, “wouldn’t it be cool if it happened to me” fantasy is epitomized exuberantly in the opening minutes of Garage Days, as rock god wannabe Freddy (Kick Gurry) pictures himself on a huge stage, in front of tens of thousands adoring fans, singing AC/DC’s “High Voltage”, complete with overblown blasts of pyro and a euphoric stage dive into the arms of the crowd. The fact that Freddy’s dreaming of all this while having sex with his girlfriend Tanya (Pia Miranda), well, it shows you where the boy’s priorities lie.
Garage Days chronicles the adventures of a struggling young Sydney band as they try desperately to land that ever-elusive first paying gig (the fact that you never hear the band’s name, nor their music until the end, becomes a running gag throughout the film). A fine enough premise, but for those of us who know how gifted a director Proyas is, the fact that he’s briefly eschewing clever, inventive sci-fi in favor of a storyline that’s better suited for the WB network, is a trifle disappointing, to say the least. Characters are as generic as it gets; you have the earnest, good guy frontman, the angry chick bassist-slash-girlfriend; Joe, the brooding lead guitarist (Brett Stiller); Lucy, the psychotic drummer (Chris Sadrinna), and Bruno, the bumbling, hapless manager (Russell Dykstra). Throw in the comely Maya Stange as Joe’s girlfriend Kaye, and less than ten minutes onto the movie, before you can say, “Veruca Salt,” the love triangles, pregnancies, backstabbing, and flings with creepy goth chicks begin, as the film wastes no time whatsoever to kick into Wacky Hijinks mode, as a series of coincidences and Three’s Company style misunderstandings lead to the band locking horns with the expected slimy corporate manager (Marton Csokas), and climaxing with, you guessed it, the Big Stadium Moment.
Despite the predictable storyline, Proyas does manage to give us a handful of moments that lead you to believe he could have outdone Danny Boyle if he had something as good as Trainspotting to work with. Peppered throughout the film are brief, arty vignettes that temporarily stray from the bright, vibrant, sunny look of the film, providing some very snazzy portraits of each protagonist, narrated in the first person, as Proyas pulls out the bells and whistles: Tanya’s computer-animated bubblegum bubble, a super slo-mo picture of a drop of water landing between someone’s feet, a capsule of a mysterious chemical concoction slowly turning end over end before landing in Lucy’s mouth.
Something strange happens midway through; as the story slows down from its insanely over-the-top opening half hour, you start to like these kids, you want the two romantic leads to end up together, you begin to notice that this movie has a very impressive soundtrack (featuring songs ranging from The Cure to AC/DC to Tom Jones), and you enjoy the presence of Joe’s father Kevin, a washed-up former rock star, played with gusto by Andy Anderson, who serves as a reminder that stardom isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, especially if you don’t have your life in order. There are a few big laughs, particularly a “Fun With Drugs” moment involving a disastrous dinner with Tanya’s parents, a priceless AC/DC cover band performing in a casino in front of old ladies, and a truly surreal instant where you have a cantaloupe screaming for its daddy (trust me on this one). In the end, Garage Days is as mind-numbingly annoying as 1996’s Empire Records, and yet weirdly enough, as silly and ingratiating as Empire Records. Oh, and there’s a reason why you never hear this band’s music until the end, and when the big moment finally arrives, you realize why, and that nice final touch compels you to let the movie’s many weaknesses slide.