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5 reviews, 14 user ratings

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Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
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by Peter Sobczynski

"La Vie en Cox"
4 stars

Although musical biopics have been a Hollywood staple ever since the introduction of sound, they have really taken off in terms of popularity in the last few years and it isn’t hard to figure out why. Audiences like them because they will always spark for a combination of sex, drugs, heartbreak, triumph, tragedy and familiar tunes, actors love them because playing the lead in such a film these days is almost a guarantee of an Oscar nomination and record companies really love them because a popular film on the life and times of a famous singer can spark an enormously lucrative renewed interest in said singer’s back catalogue. In recent years, however, there have been so many these films and they have so closely followed the same basic parameters of the genre that it was inevitable that someone would get the bright idea of doing a spoof that would gleefully skewer those conventions in the most outrageous manner possible. “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” is just that kind of film and while it is highly unlikely that anyone will be mistaking it for a comedy classic anytime soon, it is a cheerfully silly goof that contains just enough laughs, both big and small, to make it stand out as a refreshingly light diversion in a season that has been mostly dominated by heavier and far-more-serious fare.

The film tells the story of the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall and fall and rise and fall and rise of Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly), a world-famous singer whose career has spanned the entire history of rock-and-roll. When we first see Dewey as a little boy, he is out playing with his older brother, a talented and sensitive musical genius whose seemingly brilliant career is cut short, literally, one fateful day after he and Dewey make the ill-advised decision to play “Machete Fight” in the barn–a game that leaves the brother with what the doctor describes as “the worst case of being cut in half that I’ve ever seen,” causes Dewey to be stricken with an instant and lasting case of “smell blindness” and causes his grumpy pop to remind him at every opportunity that “the wrong son died.” Honoring his brother’s musical dreams, Dewey picks up a guitar and when we catch up with him in high school, his talent show performance inspires a riot, gets him kicked out of the house and lands him a child bride in Edith (Kristen Wiig), whose entire purpose in life appears to be to give birth to one baby after another while constantly reminding Dewey that he will never be a success with his music. Working as a janitor in a nightclub, Dewey volunteers to take the stage when the leader of the house band is incapacitated (to say any more about the particulars would spoil too many jokes) and his performance earns him the chance to record his very own record where, after a few hideous false starts, he and his brand-new back-up band (Tim Meadows, Chris Parnell and Matt Besser) somehow manage to come together perfectly on a brand-new song and the result is “Walk Hard,” his paean to the joys of. . .well, of walking hard.

The song is an instant smash and turns Dewey into the kind of overnight sensation who can afford to buy his own giraffe. . On a professional level, it is the beginning of a long and surprisingly resilient career that will see him dabbling in any number of musical genres (he even more or less invents punk rock at one point) with such powerful tunes as “There’s a Change A’Happening,” “Let Me Hold You (Little Man)” and “Black Sheep.” On a personal level, Dewey falls victim to all the familiar demons–sex with groupies of all shapes, sizes and genders, drugs of all varieties (all of which he is introduced to by his African-American drummer) and a father who constantly reappears to remind Dewey that he killed his brother (and later on at a key moment), we discover that he helped unwittingly contribute to his mother’s death as well). At home, Dewey begins to weary of married life–you can’t really blame him since his wife still constantly reminds him that he will never make it as a singer even after he has become a worldwide sensation–and begins making goo-goo eyes at Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer), the back-up singer that he collaborates with on the double-entendre-laden hit “Let’s Duet.” Inevitably, the pressure of stardom get to Dewey and he becomes a recluse until a fluke revives his commercial standing and earns him that greatest of honors–a Lifetime Achievement award presentation that includes a pretentious presentation speech from Eddie Vedder, a tribute performance that features the collaborative efforts of Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett, Jewel and Ghostface Killah and the return of the man himself complete with a song that poignantly sums up his entire career in under four minutes, bridge included. And yes, there are a couple of fateful encounters with celebrities along the way–he runs into a karate-obsessed Elvis (Jack White) backstage at a concert and later has a meeting of the minds in India with the Beatles (to reveal who plays who would be grossly unfair) that quickly goes bad for all involved.

“Walk Hard” is the latest brainchild of comedy wunderkind Judd Apatow, whose previous efforts have included such beloved TV shows as “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” and such cinematic smashes as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and “Superbad.” However, anyone expecting the combination of the smart comedy and surprisingly deft and nuanced characters and storylines of those efforts is likely to be somewhat taken aback with “Walk Hard,” which is basically one broad joke after another for 97 straight minutes, an approach that inspires two immediate problems. For one, it challenges the critic to figure out a way to write a review of a movie that consists of nothing but jokes without performing the unthinkable act of simply blowing many of said jokes. The more immediate problem, at least for those of you not is that unless the filmmakers has somehow managed to come up with one of the best comedies ever made,(as the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker triumvirate did with their smash hit “Airplane!” and the even-funnier “Top Secret”), 90-odd minutes of one joke after another can get a little wearying after a while and “Walk Hard” is no exception. There are a lot of funny moments on display here but there are also a lot that don’t quite work and after a while, they all kind of begin to blend together after a while. No doubt as a result of the joke-joke-joke approach, there is a certain heavy-handedness to the tone that begins to grow a little wearying after a while–at times, you wish that Apatow and co-writer/director Jake Kasdan (whose previous screen efforts include the brilliant “Zero Effect” and the reasonably smart teen comedy “Orange County”) had taken the Spinal Tap or Rutles route and mixed in some subtler jabs along with the broader gags since the ones of this type that they do deploy (such as their inspired take on the convention that the record company weasels in these films are always portrayed as aggressively Jewish and the award-show segment that perfectly nails the often-ghastly nature of such events right down to the hilariously inappropriate performers thrown together to pay tribute to a figure that they may have only the most tenuous connection to, if any ) are among the film’s funniest moments.

These are problems but they aren’t serious ones–trust me, there is nothing on display that could even remotely be considered “serious”–because for the most part, “Walk Hard” turns out to be a pretty successful spoof, certainly far more entertaining than the woeful likes of attempts such as “Date Movie,” “Epic Movie” and “The Comebacks.” One reason for this is that while Apatow and Kasdan are clearly having a blast mocking the dramatic excesses of the genre, it is also evident that the two of them harbor a genuine affection for the films they are goofing on and that genuine sense of fondness helps to keep things from delving into terminal snarkiness. Another is the fact that the numerous songs that we hear throughout the film manage to successfully navigate the single element that trips up most musical parodies of this type in that the songs are very funny (especially the various Dylan parodies and the sweetly depraved “Let’s Duet,” a song that makes “Afternoon Delight” look like a paragon of subtlety by comparison) while still sounding like passable examples of the type of music they are supposed to be representing–if you didn’t know any better, you could swear that the title tune sounds just like one of those long-forgotten nuggets just begging to be rediscovered in a Quentin Tarantino movie. The key element behind the success of “Walk Hard,” however, is the inspired performance from John C. Reilly as Dewey. A consistently valuable supporting player for years in films as varied as “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “Chicago,” “Talladega Nights” and “A Prairie Home Companion,” he steps up to center stage and commits to the role, no matter what absurdities it may involve, with the exact same kind of fierce determination and focus that Jamie Foxx and Joaquin Phoenix brought to their biopic triumphs and they didn’t have to struggle with maintaining said focus in the face of such distractions as a monkey, several unfortunate hairstyles (his gone-to-seed Brian Wilson look is almost uncomfortably convincing) and a never-more-alluring Jenna Fischer to contend with.

Admittedly, “Walk Hard” is not the classic rock parody that it wants to be (that position is still held firmly by “This Is Spinal Tap”)and it isn’t even the funniest film currently playing in theaters (unless “Juno”hasn’t opened in your area yet). However, it is still a breezily amusing goof with a few enormous laughs, a good number of smaller one and a cheerfully anarchic spirit beating inside of its rock and roll heart. It may be utter nonsense from start to finish but at a time when your moviegoing choices are limited to deeply serious Oscar bait and silly family froth, its appearance comes as a raunchy relief.

P.S.: If you do go to see “Walk Hard,” I implore you to stay through all of the end credits–without going into detail, I can assure you that the payoff is more than worth the wait.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16783&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/21/07 00:00:00
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User Comments

9/05/20 brian A particularly bad case of being cut in half. 4 stars
6/21/15 David Hollingsworth Not the best spoof, but still very funny 4 stars
2/16/12 Charles Tatum Pee your pants hilarious 5 stars
11/17/10 mr.mike It has a decent amount of laughs. 4 stars
10/10/08 Annie G Not just a wonderful parody, but also a funny film on its own merits. 4 stars
5/14/08 mike slow start then got a little funny. i liked the duet song 3 stars
4/18/08 Dan A funny concept that doesn't manage to come together. The Beatles scene was great, though. 2 stars
4/15/08 Servo "Get outta here Dewey! You don't want none of this shit!" 4 stars
2/09/08 Samantha P SO FUNNY! I love all the seens where he walked in on them doing drugs, hahaha!!! 5 stars
2/05/08 Jenna Furr Has its moments, but too much of it's hard to distinguish from kind of stuff being parodied 3 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic A dismal indurance 1 stars
12/30/07 TknoMom This movie was great! The funniest music movie since A Mighty Wind. 5 stars
12/24/07 Captain Highcrime Why did I keep hearing the NBC chimes during this movie?? 4 stars
12/21/07 Megan THIS MOVIE SUCKED ASSSSSSS!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
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  21-Dec-2007 (R)
  DVD: 08-Apr-2008



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