“Taurus” is more proof that there’s little new to say in the self-destructive rock star movie genre, that a Cobain by any other name is either fated to end up drowning in his own vomit, or not.
Writer-director Tim Sutton’s second feature with his new muse, rapper Machine Gun Kelly, billed under his real name (Colson Baker) here, is a portrait in drugged-up pop star indulgence. What it’s not very good at getting across is the source of the pain, the disaffection that drives our anti-hero’s excesses or his art.
The script has a murkiness to characters and character motivations, and Sutton doesn’t help itself in the casting or the under-explaining that goes on. Is this rapper Cole Taurus, holed up in an LA rental working on a new album or hauled out to the studio everyday by his long suffering assistant (Maggie Hasson) to that he can “spit” some more rhymes, seeing his ex (Megan Fox, Baker’s current off-camera flame) in the face of other women? Is he wracked by guilt over the neglect he shows their little girl (Avery Tiuu Essex), who is being raised by a woman (Siri Miller) whose relationship to all this is left hanging?
As I’m not his shrink, just a guy who watches movies and takes notes to make sense of what I’m seeing, beats me.
Assorted women drift into Cole’s life. One (Naomi Wild) has the perfect voice to co-star on his songs with, that kittenish girly lilt/growl so in vogue today.
Another brunette (Sara Silva) has his attention and maybe his interest. Because she’s beautiful and eager and, oh yeah, she brings him drugs.
The ex (Fox) is glimpsed in heated flashbacks, or flashed on the face of some other lover.
Ruby Rose plays the hard-partying punk regarded by Cole’s manager (Scoot McNairy), as the worst influence of all. She’s just a spikey-haired minx who can’t say no — to most whatever Cole has in mind.
And then there’s the constant, the put-upon, abused and blamed Ilana (Hasson of “Malignant,” TV’s “Impulse” and “Mr. Mercedes”). She’s the one who has to ask “Are you high?” as a rhetorical question. She’s the one who won’t move the car until he’s stopped hanging so low out the window that his knuckles drag on the pavement. Whenever he’s late for something or misunderstood or ignored an instruction, she’s the one he chews out, often in public.
“You’ve got a lunch meeting.”
“What do you mean, ‘negative?'”
“As in I won’t be there, missing in action.”
The opening image of “Taurus” is a scene with a family pondering what’s wrong with their cable when their young son walks into the room, waving a gun which he wants to know whether or not is “real,” with violence sure to follow. That will eventually get the attention of our morbid, mean and yet insanely popular rap star. Fodder for inspiration?
But a couple of other scenes stand out here, mainly because they’re pitched higher than the many generic “He’s drunk and won’t leave the bar/strip club/home” ones, or are more revealing about our protagonist.
In one, he lights into Ilana and — mid-public-humiliation — she goes off on the arrogant, childish, irresponsible junkie “douche” she works for, just as publicly. It’s bracing and loud and what passes for “tough love” in a toxic, co-dependent relationship. God knows why she needs him. Maybe the money’s too good.
In another moment, less explicable, Ilana talks the crew of rappers and engineers in the studio to let a pizza guy fanboy come in to get a photo. Why she would agree to that, considering who she’s dealing with, is a mystery. When the other rappers — all black — act their friendliest to the pizza guy, insecure Cole dismisses him the moment he hears this new guy “spits” as well.
Those moments feel real and fresh, and there are bits and pieces of what feels like reality scattered throughout the film. But the tropes, which have been around since the first “A Star is Born,” on through “The Rose” and into “Ray,” “Sid & Nancy” and “Get on Up,” are worn out now.
Sure, every few weeks there’s another news story on this or that act of self-destruction by a pop singer, rapper or rocker. But just because they keep doing it is no reason to run through the same old suicide by needle on the “died too young” trail across the screen. Tragic as they are, these deaths have become cliches. Movies recreating them don’t even move us any more because we’ve become numbed to the self-destructive waste.
Baker has decent, head-to-toe tattooed screen presence. Tis character isn’t much of a stretch, as the real rapper has probably been around real basket cases like this guy.
But director Sutton doesn’t so much sympathize with either the character or the actor playing him as keep them at arm’s length. Sutton knows he’s made his star play a cliche, and the star can’t have missed that either. Why sweat the details if you figure that out early on?
Rating: unrated, drug abuse, sex, profanity
Cast: Colson Baker, Maggie Hanson, Naomi Wild, Ron G, Ruby Rose, Scoot McNary and Megan Fox
Credits: Scripted and directed by Tim Sutton: An RLJE release.
Running time: 1:38