Sunday, February 15, 2009
If you like to see people get hit in the head with various objects, boy, do I have a movie for you. A companion piece to School of Rock riding on the coattails of that film a mere 5 years too late, The Rocker presents another story of an aged wannabe who finds renewed vigor with the help of rockin' kids. That is not to say the two are clones, however; no, School of Rock had a point, while The Rocker comes off as a lowbrow, borderline creepy piece of slapstick. Over the course of 102 minutes (seriously?), Rainn Wilson hits people in the head with things and even gets hit himself a few times, and if that isn't wisdom I don't know what is.
Wilson plays Robert "Fish" Fishman, a pasty layabout who dwells upon the golden days. In the 80s, he rocked out in Vesuvius, the next big glam band. They even landed a record deal, but it came with a caveat: the other members have to ditch Fish because the label head wants to get his nephew famous. Even by the standards of studio involvement, this kind of stretches believability, but whatever. The band relents, and goes on to superstardom that survives even into the present. Yes, a generic glam band became so popular that even grunge and nü-metal and simply getting too old to play dress-up didn't hurt their sales.
Fish now lives with his sister and her husband (Jane Lynch and Jeff Garlin), and learns that their son Matt (Josh Gad), a fat nerd who has a band of his own, A.D.D. Gad is latest in a string of Jonah Hill wannabes, and even kind of looks and sounds like him too, which creeped me out more than fooled me. His band includes Amelia (Emma Stone), the shy punky bassist and Curtis (Teddy Geiger) who seems to be trying to outbrood David Boreanaz's Angel. A.D.D. is set to play the prom but hits a snag when their drummer gets suspended for distributing pot brownies at school. Matt suggests they let Fish play and, for reasons that escape me, his bandmates reluctantly agree.
Fish amazingly fits in the band perfectly, at least musically, and eventually he finds a permanent place within the band. He calls around all the old venues he used to play and secures A.D.D.'s first gig and encourages Curtis not to feel down about himself; things are looking up. Then, through a mishap, a video of Fish practicing nude hits Youtube and the band lands a record deal. Look, I know I must seem unreasonable pointing out all the contrivances, but read them aloud and see if you'd buy them. Oh, never mind. Suddenly the band is on tour and Fish tastes fame once more.
Tour life plays out rather muted considering how quickly A.D.D. rises to the top of the charts (you know what? I'm just letting these go from now on); Fish parties it up, but then Curtis' mother (Christina Applegate) decides to travel with the kids so they don't get corrupted by their drummer. A will-they-won't-they-who-cares? subplot develops between Amelia and Curtis, which is pointless because they both clearly love each other, neither is in a relationship, and neither is too strong-willed to admit their feelings.
Just when it all can't get any better, the A&R rep (Jason Sudeikis) informs the group that they'll open for, you guessed it, Vesuvius. Fish flies off in a rage, only for Curtis to agree to the gig out of spite that Fish has gotten close to his mother, and then all is forgiven within the span of 6 minutes. Six. Of course, the night can only end in triumph for our heroes at the expense of Vesuvius, who have turned into faux-British, self-absorbed rock stars, and we've learned...what, exactly? Let your dream die for 20 years, then get back on the horse like nothing changed and win?
The cast is too good for this movie. Jane Lynch and Jeff Garlin are far too talented to take the roles they do, as is Christina Applegate. I understand character actors can't be as picky, but how much could this have possibly paid? And Rainn Wilson, God bless him, he just doesn't strike me as a leading actor. I think he's just great on The Office, but he lacks the charisma for a lead role, and I couldn't help but think he spent more time trying (and often failing) to stop himself mugging than actually acting.
The Rocker isn't an atrocious film, but it has nothing to say and takes up nearly 2 hours doing so. No one sticks out as being especially good or bad, to the point that Demetri Martin steals the entire film in a brief cameo as a music video producer. For me, the best way to judge this film, which concerns itself with the power of rock, is to look at the soundtrack; School of Rock scored artists like The Who and even the rights-guarding Led Zeppelin, while The Rocker relies on Teddy Geiger's own derivative compositions and the occasional musical rearrangement of a classic rocker. That's about as metaphorical as the film ever gets.