As a film about the birth of the punk movement in the late 1970s, a fascinating time in western cultural history,"CBGB" has some obvious shortcomings. Whereas punk grew out of a furious frustration with the status quo and a raw desire amongst troublemaking taboo-smashers to band together and make some "anything-goes" waves within a stagnating society, the tone of "CBGB" is decidedly glossy, sanitary, and pat. Even the filth in this movie sparkles, and there's not a real hint anywhere of the razor-sharp criticism, the bewildering sense of freedom, and the plain old snot that encrusted the real CBGB and made the punk rock movement, which radically changed the course of late 20th century culture, so dangerous and surreal.
That said, this is a fun and tonally consistent movie, if one that, again, almost completely fails to capture the spirit of its source material. It's overwhelmingly safe and superficial -- everything punk was/is not -- and perhaps there is some condescension in that, intentionally or not. Portraying the "sex and drugs" portions of the movie in a mindlessly "party-hearty" light was an odd move, for instance, and some bizarre casting choices, from Rickman, whose British accent emerges from time to time as he plays the New Jerseyan Kristal, to fellow "Harry Potter" alum Rupert Grint ("Ron Weasley") as the Dead Boys' Cheetah Chrome, add to the film's peculiarities. (The handsome and muscular Justin Bartha, no matter how you dress him up, is also simply no funny-looking and rail-thin Stiv Bators (R. I. P. Stiv).) And would it have killed the filmmakers to have the actors pantomime their performanes to live recordings rather than to studio cuts?
Despite all this though, CBGB remains a distinctly likeable film on its own terms and one that is likely to appeal to decidedly non-punk audiences, if it does so at the expense of removing most of its authenticity, contenting itself with dropping names instead. But hey, if you liked this and want more of the punk experience, try out some of the other cinematic options, such as "A Band Called Death," "CBGB: Punk from the Bowery," "Over the Edge," "Punk: Attitude," and "Suburbia."