By Owen Gleiberman
Updated October 23, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

Gina Gershon was born with bedroom eyes, and her grin looks just like a Cheshire cat’s — that is, if the cat were a punk tigress. It may be a sign of the times that for all the people, like me, who think that Gershon is a sexy, ferocious actress, she hardly ever lands a part worthy of her violent-femme charm. Is she still suffering the ”Showgirls” taint? That infamous debacle (her first major role) was eight years ago, and she has now been around long enough to attain the cachet of a floating Hollywood hipster-outsider — a fixture in an industry that accepts her, but only to a point. Maybe that’s why she bites with such fury into the role of Jacki, the aging Los Angeles rocker who’s the feisty, embattled heart of Prey for Rock & Roll.

Jacki has been playing in bands since she was a kid on the L.A. punk scene. At 40, she’s got a closet full of leather pants and studded belts, a body covered in tattoos, and no health insurance. On stage at the local clubs, where she leads an all-girl band called Clam Dandy, the rock & roll sneer still looks good on her, but that sneer is all she has. She’s like a Joan Jett or Chrissie Hynde who never made it — a pretender to her own rock dreams. ”Prey for Rock & Roll” is an ingratiatingly scrappy little movie. It’s been cobbled together out of a great many conventional crises (drugs, abusive boyfriends, heartless girlfriends, a looming record deal), yet there’s a tough and appealing vitality to the way that it embraces the petty ego-tripping and party-down squalor of the rock lifestyle and stands apart from it at the same time. Jacki, with her strutter narcissism, must learn to accept that the gods of stardom have passed her by. With any luck, Gina Gershon will avoid the same fate.