Metal Lords

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Imagine Judas Priest recording a concept album based on a John Hughes movie and you've got Metal Lords. Or, alternately, you could look at it as an R-rated School of Rock. There's been a dearth of flat-out comedies in the last few years. The genre has gotten edged out by the proliferation of superhero adventures and action franchises. For that reason alone, it's nice to see a picture that only wants to make you laugh. And this is indeed a very funny film. Despite a few minor flaws, I adored every minute of it.

The story centers on two teenage best friends. Hunter (Adrian Greensmith, in a dazzling debut) is obsessed with heavy metal music. In fact, the heavier, the better. He's convinced Kevin (IT: Chapter One's Jaeden Martell) to join him in starting their own band called Skullfucker. Hunter's an excellent guitarist. Kevin plays the drums in the school marching band, and isn't all that enamored with metal. He goes along with the idea anyway, quickly educating himself on his buddy's favorite bands.

What they need is a bass player. Kevin thinks a good candidate would be Emily (Isis Hainsworth), a cello player with rage issues whenever she doesn't take her psych meds. Hunter won't even consider having a cello player in his metal band, even though Emily is really talented and more than willing to learn the music. Time is running out, since the school's Battle of the Bands, which Hunter intends to win, is fast approaching.

Metal Lords is a lot of things, but first and foremost it's an ode to the entire ethic of heavy metal music. Plenty of adolescent dilemmas befall this unlikely trio, including bullying, getting in trouble with the principal, mental health problems, and dealing with parental issues. All three kids get through them by embracing the “power” and “speed” that Hunter says metal embodies. In other words, they charge head-first into those problems, slamming them like a nerd stuck in a mosh pit. The energy of the music provides the courage to not run away when life gets hard. You don't have to like metal to appreciate that message, and the movie may even give you new appreciation for it.

Humor comes from the personalities of the characters. Greensmith infuses Hunter with a hilarious “screw you” attitude toward anything he deems not sufficiently metal, which is pretty much everything that isn't actually metal. His pissed-off, condescending wisecracks are laugh-out-loud funny. Martell wrings humor out of Kevin's gradual development of passion for hard-charging music, showing how banging on the drums unleashes a lion from his otherwise timid soul. And Hainsworth is hysterical in conveying the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of Emily's disposition. The dynamic these three work up is terrific, and Metal Lords is made better by the fact that the actors are visibly playing their instruments. Such realism makes a huge impact.

The plot has some mighty big contrivances, especially during a third-act escape from a rehab facility. Joe Manganiello has a nice cameo as that facility's director, although the whole sequence feels artificial. One or two other sections are similarly fabricated. Honestly, I didn't even care that much. Directed by Peter Sollett (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) and written by D.B. Weiss (Game of Thrones), Metal Lords exemplifies the spirit of metal as much or more than any other film I've seen on the subject. Plus, it made me smile and laugh from start to finish.

out of four

Metal Lords is rated R for language throughout, sexual references, nudity, and drug/alcohol use – all involving teens. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.