Mini Review: 'Anvil! The Story of Anvil'

Friday, May 15, 2009

Now THIS is Spinal Tap.

"Anvil! The Story of Anvil" is a riveting new documentary about a couple of old Canadian headbangers who are still chasing the heavy-metal dream, and -- lo -- it plays like a reality-based version of Rob Reiner's epochal 1984 heavy-metal mockumentary, "This Is Spinal Tap."

There's a disastrously attended European tour and a semi-triumphant comeback concert in Japan. Oh, and the drummer's name is Robb Reiner. Seriously. Anvil knows its "Spinal Tap" and, also, knows from self-parody.

But "Anvil!" is no joke, even if it's full of hilarious moments. Rather, it's a poignant portrait of Reiner and singer-guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow, the Anvil co-founders.

"The Story of Anvil" is a love letter -- or, better yet, a devil's-horn-salute -- to the band from filmmaker Sacha Gervasi, an old Anvil fan.

Fret not if you haven't heard of the band, though. That's sort of the point of the film, which accurately explains that, for a fleeting moment a quarter-century ago, Anvil was on the verge of becoming one of the leaders of the global heavy-metal brigade.

Its 1982 album, "Metal on Metal," was a trendsetter that became a template for the speed-metal stars that followed: Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, whose drummer, Lars Ulrich, says in the documentary, "These guys were literally going to turn the music world upside down."

"Anvil" opens with a 1984 stadium show in Japan with Bon Jovi, the Scorpions and Whitesnake.

The next time we see Kudlow singing live is at a celebratory concert for his 50th birthday at a small bar in Ontario. Hardly glamorous but way better than his day job as a driver for a catering company that provides public-school meals.

"For all this horrible [expletive] that I got to go through, I've got Anvil. That gives me happiness," Kudlow says. "It works out really good. Because even though Anvil doesn't give me pay, it gives me the joy and the pleasure that you need to get through life."

So why did Anvil fail while some of its contemporaries became huge? "The Story of Anvil" never really settles on an answer.

"They should have made it a lot bigger, and I don't really understand the reason why," says Slash, the Guns N' Roses guitarist. "Sometimes life deals you a tough deck."

-- J. Freedom DuLac

Anvil! The Story of Anvil Unrated, 90 minutes Contains full frontal male nudity and crude language. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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