Movie Review: ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’

From the top of “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,” a new biopic of eccentric British rock legend Ian Dury, Andy Serkis uncoils a performance of spit, grit and wit so ferocious it only serves to starkly clarify how unremarkable and formulaic the rest of the movie is. As the wily, self-destructive yet rudely charming lyricist-leader of the Blockheads — whose ‘70s-era hard-charging performance style and cleverly political songwriting helped usher in punk and New Wave — Serkis’ Dury is almost too much for the movie he fronts, which fails to ignite under Mat Whitecross’ rhythmless, oddly sentimental direction.

Scenes of hard partying, band psychodrama, traumatic flashbacks (with Ray Winstone as Dury’s dad and Toby Jones as a cruel headmaster), romantic entanglements (first with Olivia Williams’ long-suffering wife, then Naomie Harris’ long-suffering girlfriend), and loving if questionable parenting (toward Bill Milner, as Dury’s son Baxter) may have individual frissons of interest, but they rarely cohere into anything different from countless other musician sagas.

Even Dury’s uniquely empowering status as a disabled rock star — because of a childhood bout with polio — is given dispiritingly uninspired treatment. There’s growly poetry to Serkis’ portrayal but the rest of “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” is like a backup band forever in catch-up mode.

—Robert Abele

“Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes. Playing at Laemmle Sunset 5, West Hollywood.