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‘Anvil!’ Doc Carries Surprising Weight

"Anvil! The Story of Anvil" is like attending a head-banging heavy metal concert. After 80 minutes, there's a huge banging in your head. The next day, though, what lingers is the fulfilling blast of energy and fun. You might want to flick and wave your Bic.

There's a huge undercurrent of nostalgia and sadness in this intimate portrait of underachievement. The documentary might be something to share with your teenage rockers and their garage-band friends, the kids dreaming of arena-rock stardom who practice at your place and blow away the neighbors.

Anvil — sometimes called "Fathers of Power Metal" and "Godfathers of Thrash Metal" — was something in the early 1980s. "Metal on Metal," its 1982 album, influenced such monster bands as Slayer, Anthrax and Metallica. Those groups went on to metal fame and fortune. Anvil, led by Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner, nice Jewish boys from Toronto, sunk like, well, an anvil.

Director Sacha Gervasi knows these guys, having been a teenage roadie for Anvil on a 1983 tour of hockey arenas, even garnering drumming lessons from the highly regarded Reiner.

Now, with a career as a Hollywood screenwriter (the Tom Hanks flick, "The Terminal"), he never makes you feel sorry for the boys, though guitarist and lead singer Kudlow — a jangling, nervous being, talkative and explosive — is a driver for a catering company, and filmed delivering cafeteria food to local schools with earmuffs on in the dead of winter.

At one point in the picture, an Anvil fan gives Kudlow, broke but not broken, a job as a telemarketer. That lasts less than a week.

Reiner, who is not the meathead Rob Reiner of "All in the Family" and director of "Stand By Me," turned down a chance early on to become the drummer in Ozzy Osbourne's band Black Sabbath, but did find a contented family life. Now in their 50s, when he and Kudlow get together and schmooze about old times, the urge to perform, the lure of rock eminence again takes over.

So, when an opportunity presents itself to reunite for a tour of clubs in Eastern Europe, Kudlow and Reiner drop everything, leave family behind and take off.

Overseas, they're booked by an excitable manager into dumps where the band plays before mere handfuls of folks and isn't paid. Gervasi is a wizard at being the observer in this story, a kind of cinematic roadie.

There are moments in "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" that remind of Rob Reiner's (Rob, not Robb) great 1984 spoof "This Is Spinal Tap," about the resurrection of a once-famous British heavy metal band. The film is a beloved staple of rock cinema.

But it's more closely aligned with 2004's fascinating "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster," which caught the dynamics of that high-powered metal band as it prepared for a tour, complete with infighting, posturing, arrogance and, finally, dedication to the cause.

"Anvil! The Story of Anvil" has some turn-away moments like when Kudlow, goes to his sister, hat in hand, for money. He seems then in a permanent state of stunted development, living off the memories of playing faster, harder and louder than Iron Maiden and Motorhead combined. The family indulges him.

Although "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" can be viewed as a treatise on failure, with guitarist Slash of Guns N' Roses lamenting in an on-screen interview how the band got ripped off by promoters and record company execs, you don't pity them.

Instead, you wish them well and ponder others in their 50s, and even older, who carry dreams unfulfilled.

"Anvil! The Story of Anvil." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. 3 stars.

To find out more about Lee Grant and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

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