Epic's recent DVD for The Clash: Rude Boy contains a "Just Play The Clash" option that lets audiences skip directly to electrifying live performances by the seminal punk band. That very special feature implicitly acknowledges that Rude Boy succeeds smashingly as a concert film. But it fails just as spectacularly at crafting a reality-bending punk-rock Medium Cool out of the raw material of The Clash and its entourage. The film also echoes Slade's underrated 1975 film Flame in its attempts to deglamorize the rock milieu, but the explosiveness of the Clash performance footage—and the dreary emptiness of everything else—undermine its efforts.
Rude Boy co-directors David Mingay and Jack Hazan somewhat bewilderingly document The Clash through the bleary, bloodshot eyes of roadie Ray Gange, a hard-drinking, apolitical working-class fuck-up who gradually staggers into the gutter as the band rises to international stardom. Gange initially radiates a belligerent charisma that suggests a cross between The Clash's Joe Strummer and Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, but over the course of the film's bloated 127-minute run time, his character never develops past vague, unsympathetic cipherdom. Consequently, Rude Boy becomes a labored, shapeless character study of a slacker without much character.
Like Medium Cool, the largely improvised Rude Boy aspires to be a film about pretty much everything: race, class, music, business, politics, and current events, for starters. But in setting out to accomplish so much, it ends up accomplishing too little, as the filmmakers' Herculean ambitions dwarf their meager financial and creative resources. A subplot involving police harassment of blacks goes nowhere, and the film's politics are fuzzy to the point of incoherence. Rude Boy sets out to make a generation-defining statement about aimlessness and ennui, but succeeds only in capturing a legendary group at the peak of its powers; that's a formidable accomplishment, but it doesn't quite justify Hazan and Mingay's failed experimentation. The directors learned the hard way that it's difficult to document disaffected youth's boredom and drudgery without becoming an extended exercise in both.
Key features: Interviews with Gange, the directors, and Clash Road Manager Johnny Greenp; deleted scenes, bonus live tracks.