“Metal Lords” is a throwback hodgepodge of 1970s and 80s teen comedies, coming-of-age sex antics that probably wouldn’t fly today.
Turns out he’s not flying today either, at least not very high.
Not because it’s politically incorrect or he’s not woke enough, or he’s not politically incorrect or too woke, or whatever you want to describe it. He touches on all of this, in a self-referential way. As it might suggest, he doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with himself – as if he wants to do the right thing but has no idea how.
Although its greatest redeeming quality, a single line of dialogue saves almost everything: “Thank you, Rob Halford from Judas Priest.”
Rob Halford, Tom Morello and Kirk Hammett make cameos
Thank you indeed. Halford, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Anthrax’s Scott Ian, and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello all have a much-loved cameo.
The film is on the radar, at least somewhat, because of its pedigree: DB Weiss, the co-creator of “Game of Thrones,” wrote the screenplay; it’s part of the deal he and David Benioff, the other co-creator of HBO’s massive hit, signed with Netflix.
He could use a dragon or two. Wouldn’t that be metal?
Being metal is, in fact, the central concern of Hunter Sylvester (Adrian Greensmith), a high school student with a chip on his shoulder the size of a Marshall amp after his parents split up. He’s a dedicated guitarist for Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Slayer, etc.
He formed a band, whose name cannot be repeated here but which eventually morphed into Skullflower, with tentative help from his friend Kevin Schleib (Jaeden Martell), whose gig qualifications include drumming in the marching band and be the only person who will talk to Hunter.
They don’t have a bass player, among other flaws. Kevin thinks Emily Spector (Isis Hainsworth) is an intriguing option – she launched into a swearing tirade at the band’s manager after he (correctly) pointed out that her clarinet playing was terrible.
She also plays the cello, very well, and can hit “War Pigs” with authority on it. But a girl playing the cello isn’t metal enough for Hunter, partly because nothing is. (He should check out Lori Goldston, who played with Nirvana, though Hunter is such a self-proclaimed purist that Nirvana might not be metal enough for him.)
His misogyny is a knee jerk first and foremost, and like most offensive things he says, he apologizes. It makes you cringe, but it’s illustrative of the lack of direction in his life. Certainly, his father (Brett Gelman, who “Fleabag” fans know is good at playing creepy), a womanizing plastic surgeon, provides none.
Hunter’s devotion to what he considers metal, meanwhile, is debilitating. It’s a defense mechanism, leaving nothing up to its standards. And it really works. Apart from Kevin, no one can stand it.
Meanwhile, Kevin and Emily become a couple. Like, they decide to, uh, really become a couple over a quick phone call.
The ‘Metal Lords’ can’t decide how to deal with serious issues
There are all sorts of issues at play here. Isis tells Kevin that the reason she broke down during marching band practice is because she went off the meds for a few days. She calls her medication her “happy pills”, then tells Kevin that he is her happy pill. We don’t learn much more about it than that, but it’s a pretty important detail to drag out there.
Without saying too much, Hunter also has some things to settle. It’s no secret what – his problems with his father and his scars from their failed marriage. It’s how they work out that shouldn’t be messed up.
But mental illness is a recurring theme. Weiss and director Peter Sollett seem intent on dealing with it seriously, but also as a kind of comedic showmanship. It is not an impossible task. It just has to be done with care, and there’s not enough of it here.
A group battle is looming and Hunter sees it as a chance for validation. There are several twists along the way, naturally. There are a few laughs (a well-placed police baton, for one). But “Metal Lords” seems unfinished, rough, like a solo that the guitarist has never mastered.
‘Metal Lords’ 2.5 stars
Awesome ★★★★★ Good ★★★★
Correct ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★
Director: Peter Sollet.
Starring: Jaeden Martell, Isis Hainsworth, Adrian Greensmith.
Rating: R for language throughout, sexual references, nudity, and drug/alcohol use – all involving teens.
Note: Streaming on Netflix April 8.
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