A film review by Craig J. Koban
TENACIOUS D IN: THE PICK OF DESTINY
2006, R, 93 mins.
JB: Jack Black / KG: Kyle Gass / Lee: Jason Reed / Satan: Dave Grohl / The Stranger: Tim Robbins
Directed by Liam Lynch / Written by Lynch, Jack Black and Kyle Gass
TENACIOUS D: IN THE PICK OF DESTINY reminds one of the other mindless – but spirited and wacky – comedies of yesteryear that were so irreproachable silly and manic that they deserve credit for the odd energy they create. Like a really dumb, but infectious, rock tune, TENACIOUS D pleases on rudimentary levels. By rudimentary levels I mean that it genuinely entertains by achieving its modest status quo.
Honestly, what else could one expect from a movie that is about two losers that desire to become the greatest rock band in the world by battling Satin himself in a battle of rock n’ roll showmanship? Call me crazy, but when a film involves this, along with fantasies about Sasquatches, magical guitar picks, and mini-rock operas performed by none other than Meatloaf and Ronnie James Dio, then you kind of have to respect TENACIOUS D on a level of feisty lunacy.
More than anything, this comedy works because of…well…Tenacious D themselves. I guess that I like their overall vibe and plucky determination as musicians and purveyors of kick ass tunes. They are, in actuality, a real group that is made up of Jack Black and Kyle Gass, who combined seem to be the least likely members of a hard rocking band. Black is pudgy and stout whereas Gass is even pudgier and balding; he looks like someone’s middle aged father who decided to drop his day job, pick up an electric guitar, and play some killer licks that will bring the house down. In essence, they are an atypical rock band, which is kind of what gives them an odd, quirky appeal. These guys are not Gene Simmons or Alice Cooper. They look like virginal, over aged video store clerks that just so happen to have the fiery determination to be the greatest rock n’ roll band ever.
Their music is hyperactively energetic, rousing, amusing, and cheerfully – but not mean-spiritedly – vulgar all at the same time. It is an offbeat hybrid of folk metal, comedy rock, and stoner classic rock. Their lyrics have a scatological poetry and lyricism to it that is often punctuated by surprising uses of four and twelve letter variations of the most infamous of expletives. Most assuredly, Tenacious D music is not for young ears. Yet, ever since the band made a name for themselves in their self-titled HBO television series that ran in 1999, they have become cult figures of the music world. They sure did not look like your typical rock band, but they sure had as much spunk, vigor, and a limitless liveliness to entertain as much as any other group. Their songs are pulse pounding and funny, two things that usually are not seen in contemporary rock bands.
Yet, make no mistake about it, TENACIOUS D: IN THE PICK OF DESTINY is not a clever and satiric mockumentary about the inception of the band, like THIS IS SPINAL TAP. This film chronicles the fictitious rise of the band whose characters owes more to the mindless doofuses of BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, the vulgar stoner rejects of HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, and the intellectually bankrupted celebrities of ZOOLANDER.
The film is moronic and dumb, but it never really aspires to be anything more than a congenial, potty-mouthed comedy about lovable losers who find themselves involved in endless lowbrow antics in an effort to be stars. The film is crude, lewd, but it is also kind of daft and smart in the way it sends up rock operas. Going in I thought the film would be more of a lowbrow comedy. I was pleasantly surprised by how much actual music is in the film. More than anything, TENACIOUS D captures the group’s riotous and uproarious spirits and boundless enthusiasm extremely well. Sure, the film is dumber than a bag of hammers, but like its title stars, it always aims to please and – for the most part – it’s a modestly funny 93 minutes.
The opening sequence alone sets the overall zany tone of the film and is – in my mind – worth the price of admission alone. During it we see an adolescent JB who only wants to become a wise-ass, in your face, razor sharp and acid tongued rocker. This, of course, does not sit well with his overwhelmingly Christian father, played by 1970’s rock icon, Meatloaf. JB’s expletive filled songs do little to inspire his father’s admiration at the dinner table. Soon, we get a small – but inspired – moment where Meatloaf sings in a fit of fiery passion how he will never let his son carry on his hellish ways in a “house of God.” As the boy sulks in his room a poster on his wall with Ronnie James Dio starts to sing another tune the serves to inspire JB to abandon daddy and hit the streets of Hollywood.
JB grows up really fast (played by Black) and soon comes across KG (Kyle Gass) at a Hollywood beach. JB instantly likes KG’s skills bussing for quarters, and he tries like hell to impress KG himself with his own skills. Soon, KG finally decides to allow JB to become his apprentice to which he will show the younger JB all the skills he needs to become a rock star. Some of his training involves everything from studying the movements of real rock legends, to cleaning his apartment, to scoring the two some dope to get high for the evening. JB soon grows disillusioned with KG’s tutelage, especially when he discovers that KG lives off of his parent’s rent money.
Needless to say, the two develop a strong bond and decide to enter a local open mike competition. They believe they have “the goods” to be the greatest band on earth. However, they know that they are missing the little something extra that impedes their quest. They soon discover that they need what all of the finest rockers from ACDC to Led Zeppelin have used – The Pick of Destiny. They discover all of the secrets about the notorious pick from a middle-aged music store manager, played in a funny – but, albeit brief – cameo by Ben Stiller (also the executive producer of the film). It seems that the pick is more spiritual than they surmised. It dates back centuries and is actually one of the devil’s own teeth. No wonder those other groups rocked so hard – they had the power of Satin behind them. Unfortunately for the duo, the Pick of Destiny is locked away in the heavily secure Rock N’ Roll History Museum. Faster than you can say “Mission Impossible”, the hapless duo plot their mission in hopes of stealing the pick to become the self-professed greatest band.
On a level of comedy, TENACIOUS D is mildly amusing. Some of the jokes and sight gags are funny, as is the case when they are in the Rock Museum and try to steal the Pick. JB’s manner of walking through the laser beamed security field and then deactivating the field with a particular body appendage has to be a cinematic first. Other jokes range from being motivated to juvenile. I liked one sequence where Black eats some magic mushrooms and has some serious hallucinations about Sasquatches and yet another scene where the duo meets up with a crazy old crippled rocker, played in a funny performance by Tim Robbins. Other jokes and sequences fall a bit flatter, and some of the latter scenes in the film don’t hone themselves up to the same lively spunk of the first half of the film that preceded it.
However, much of the laughs don’t necessarily come from what Black and Gass do but rather what comes out of their mouths in their songs. All in all, the group’s musical numbers are where the real comedy of the film is generated. The film is stocked full of the more usual elements of other dumb teenage comedies (i.e. – jokes about farts, bodily functions, and body parts), some of which inspire a few giggles. Yet, it is the group’s music that garners the best laughs. Some of their tunes are undeniable hoots. The duo has a sort of wide-eye, gnarly charm and charisma and they go for broke when you don’t expect otherwise.
Yes, their lyrics are unrefined and coarse, but they are freewheeling and enjoyable, not to mention entertaining. And when Jack Black mugs the camera with his eyebrows flailing, his nostrils flaring, and engages wild musicals rants, there is no doubting his skills at being bombastically charismatic. He plays his numbers like a man that has eaten more than his fair share of extra spicy burritos topped with a healthy dose of hot sauce without any water in sight to wash them down. Black in the film is pure, unadulterated adrenaline and – most of the time – his manic efforts are hard not to laugh at.
TENACIOUS D: IN THE PICK OF DESTINY may not be “the greatest motion picture of all-time” like its wickedly hyperbolic advertising copy lets on it is. It also is far from being worthy of comparison to some of the funniest films that have come out in the last year or two. Yet, the film makes up for its intermittently humorous elements with its frenzied and crafty energy that is provided by the title characters. Tenacious D is a rock band that goes against the grain of heavy metal stereotypes. They are not Adonis-like rock gods covered with long hair, their faces plastered in paint and their bodies covered in spike adorned shoulder pads. Rather, they are normal looking buffoons that sell you on their music because of their inexhaustible determination and fever-pitched oomph. The movie they occupy is kind of like that. It’s funny in small dosages, but it manages to attain a level of giddy and eruptive vivaciousness that makes rock operas entertaining. Okay, so this is a rock opera with penis and fart jokes, but the liveliness of the music and antics is enough to warrant a recommendation. In essence, TENACIOUS D is a good hearted, testosterone driven, and wily heavy metal-loving comedy. Rock on!