A film review by Craig J. Koban
2008, PG-13, 102 mins.
2008, PG-13, 102 mins.
Rainn Wilson: Robert "Fish" Fishman / Christina Applegate: Kim / Jeff Garlin: Stan / Josh Gad: Matt / Teddy Geiger: Curtis / Emma Stone: Amelia
Directed by Peter Cattaneo / Written by Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky
THE ROCKER may feel like a simple-minded, youth friendly, late summer comedy, but consider the moral of its story:
never too old for binge drinking, stage diving, flirting with underage
chicks, trashing your way through hotels, and…whoops…I almost
forgot…rockin’ your receding hairline out!
ROCKER the main character – an approaching middle-aged, go nowhere
doofus/man-child that rediscovers his big hair band, rock n’ roll
roots - is played Rainn Wilson, who many TV viewers will fondly recall
from his popular stint on the US version of THE OFFICE (for purist out
there, myself included, only the BBC Ricky Gervais OFFICE is required
comedic viewing, but I digress). Wilson
is an interesting performer: Firstly,
he kind of looks…well…weird…but that is not a criticism, because he
harnesses his indescribable peculiarity quite well (just look at his very
brief, but hysterical, cameo as a convenience store clerk in last year’s
note perfect JUNO, where he had the film’s best zinger when he
approached the pregnant title teen character and told her that her
pregnancy test “ain’t no
etch-a-sketch. This is one doodle that can't be un-did, homeskillet.”
He has a way of deadpanning lines for just the right pathological
effect, especially when it’s paired with that wide-eyed and goofily
hypnotic stare he has.
Wilson has decent comic
chops, and he certainly has played in some equally decent supporting roles
in the past in films of varying quality such as ALMOST FAMOUS, BAADASSSSS!,
GALAXY QUEST, SAHARA, and most recently, and humorously, as Luke Wilson
offbeat buddy in the underrated MY SUPER
He has often been slavishly labeled as a Poor Man’s Jack Black,
which I think is a bit unfair. Despite
the fact that he does harness some of Black’s most noteworthy slapstick
physicality, he certainly is a more appealing screen presence in the way
he does not shamelessly mug the camera as much as Black.
I also feel that Wilson is able to more effectively and
convincingly bridge the gap between playing broad farcical laughs with
genuine sentiment, the latter characteristic that is on full display in
Flash forward twenty years
and Fish has secluded himself to a life of relative normalcy whereas
Vesuvius has become one of the most popular bands in the world, securing
Fish’s status as the new Pete Best.
He works at a call center, which all but makes him feel like a
redundant and expendable nobody; his feelings of low self worth are made
all the worse when a co-worker shows off his newest CD, the brand new
Vesuvius album, and Fish gets so p-oed that he thrashes his co-worker
right in the middle of a shift. Well…he
at least warned him not to play the CD, seeing as any point in a
conversation where anybody says Vesuvius' name or plays their music sends
him into a Pavlovian trance of anger and hostility.
Fish gets fired and is forced
to move into the dingy and smelly attic of his older sister.
Interestingly, his young nephew, Matt (Josh Gad) has a fledging
teen band called ADD; he plays the key board while his two BFF’s, Amelia
(SUPERBAD’s Emma Stone) and Curtis (Teddy Geiger) are the guitarist and
soul-searching, sullen song writer/singer respectively.
ADD has a real dilemma when their drummer gets grounded by his
mother (which is a real bummer) so Matt tries to appeal to his Uncle’s
sense of lost pride by asking him if he will join the band to help them
with their gig at the prom. At
first, Fish refuses, but then when his nephew pleads with him on levels he
can understand, he accepts by stating, “You wanna be in a band to score with
chicks. I can respect
Fish joins the band and their
first gig at the prom starts off winningly, but when the fever of being
back on stage gets to him he burst out of control and bangs his drums
with maniacal glee, utterly ruing the prom king and queen’s slow dance.
ADD’s lead singer wants him out of the band.
However, Fish issues the band a challenge to reclaim his mantle as
their drummer: If he finds them their next gig, they should let him back
in. Well, he does land the
group a gig, but fate steps in when a jam session goes horribly wrong. Thinking that his web cam on a computer is a microphone, Fish
accidentally lets footage of him drumming in the nude (don't ask) get
leaked on You Tube by Matt’s bratty little sister.
Fortunately for the group, Fish’s birthday suit session becomes an
overnight sensation, which unexpectedly launches the group into the
stratosphere. Within no time,
they get a manager and go on the road for a tour, but some serious set
backs (including an inevitable showdown between Fish and his former friends
in Vesuvius) cause some riffs in the rags-to-riches band.
THE ROCKER in no way
reinvents the wheel for this type of material.
On a negative, the plot is inordinately predictable and
monotonous, going from one methodically mechanical beat to another.
Obviously, we just know that the angst ridden Curtis will have
conflicts with the aging rocker in Fish, notwithstanding that we are
thrown in – for good measure – Curtis’ smoking hot milf of a mother,
played by Christina Applegate, as a potential love interest for Fish.
Despite the fact that the camera loves her and she displays good
comic timing, Applegate is an erroneous and needless element here.
There is also a fairly routine battle of wills between the band
members as to whose path of guidance they should follow.
This is not assisted by the conniving presence of their new and
incredibly sleazy manager, played in a fairly side-splitting supporting
performance by SNL’s Jason Sudeikis.
His attempts to sabotage Fish in the group are pretty routine and
paint-by-numbers, but some of his one-liners and jabs have a creepily
hysterical tone. At one point, after the group records a song in the studio,
he cries, “John Lennon just turned over in his grave from the huge boner
you just gave him.” His
attempts at wooing Curtis’ mom are also inanely funny, when he fails at
complimenting her when he says to her, “You’re Curtis’ mom?
Man, I wish I could be in you for nine months.”
Yet, despite the film’s
preordained story construction, going from point A to B with
stunning inevitability, THE ROCKER remains a fairly lightweight,
pleasurable, and likeable romp of a bunch of misunderstood misfits trying
to make something of themselves via an aging hipster that too has something
to prove. As a homage to
80’s metal bands in all of their schlocky excesses, THE ROCKER finds the
right pulse with the material, not to mention that it displays
considerable smarts with its sharp dialogue, which intuitively knows when
and where to take jabs at the music industry (one line that involves the
terms elevator music and Celine Dion is spot on accurate).
There will be some sense of déjŕ vu for viewers familiar with
SCHOOL OF ROCK, SPINAL TAP! and maybe just a hint of THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY
for good measure, but THE ROCKER always has its heart in the right place and
generates some respectable laughs in the midst of all of its obviousness.
The film is a good bit of satisfying, PG inspired counter
programming to the R-rated, debauchery heavy comedies that were TROPIC THUNDER and
PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. This is a
film that is age appropriate for young ones, but one that will still not
be dull and tedious for adults.
The performances too have an
above average glow to them, especially for the material.
I especially like Josh Gad (whose portly facade will generate some minor
comparisons to Jonah Hill) is able to underplay lines to nearly a whisper
to get larger laughs out of them (when a uber hot babe asks him to sign
her cleavage, he sheepishly stares at her at states, “You are…nicely
proportioned” and a later scene - when a buff and blond teen drummer is
sent in to replace Fish by their manager, gets a huge chuckle:
"Look at him," Gad states, "It looks like Abercrombie makes
Grieger has a nice turn as ADD’s singer, and Emma Stone has a good sense
of latent sarcasm in her delivery. Will
Arnett - the pride of Toronto, Ontario and who just may be the funniest
man alive that has not been given a memorable movie to harness his talents
- is deeply hilarious as the deeply narcissistic singer of Vesuvius, especially
when he shows off the groups’ new English accents to Fish and company,
to which Fish properly asks, “Why do you now have accents?”
And then there’s Rainn
Wilson, and despite the fact that his performance does not always gel with
consistency here (at times he plays an over-the-top clown alongside a
down-to-earth and earnest everyman), his work is affectionate, eager, and
aims to please, which is what we expect in these types of films.
I am not entirely sure if he will ever be headlining material in
comedies (I think his true calling card will be quirky supporting rolls),
but his tenacity and perseverance shows.
THE ROCKER benefits from his enthusiasm for the material, and even
if the script is a bit of a letdown (penned by Maya Forbes and Wallace
Wolodarsky, who respectively have written TV classics like THE LARRY
SANDERS SHOW and THE SIMPSONS), the performers
hit the right collective
beat, and director Peter Cattaneo (who just may be the most forgettable
Best Director nominee ever; he was up for Oscar Gold way back in late
90’s with his sleeper hit THE FULL MONTY) infuses the proceedings with
enough audience pleasing pep and awkward charm alongside its agreeable cast
and surprisingly catchy tunes. THE
ROCKER is mild, unassuming, and a whole-heartedly good-natured comedy with
its rock n’ roll will never die, anti-establishment attitude.
And for that…it’s also refreshingly entertaining.