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Overall Rating

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Just Average48.15%
Pretty Crappy: 3.7%
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4 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Rocker, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Dorkness On the Edge of Town"
3 stars

“The Rocker” is a film about the members of a ordinary garage band pursuing their dreams of rock-and-roll stardom and, perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out to be in favor of it. The joke, however, is that the most hard-core and dedicated would-be rock sensation of the bunch--the one who has fully swallowed every story of pop stardom that he has heard and is champing at the bit to experience them for himself rather than reading about them in the pages of “Rolling Stone”--is actually a grown man who is old enough to have personally fathered all of his fellow band members and who never quite got around to setting his dreams aside in order to fully join the adult world. It is a nifty enough idea for a movie--especially now that the notion of achievement overnight rock stardom has once again become a contemporary cultural obsession thank to the “Guitar Hero” videogame and such TV shows as “American Idol” and “Hannah Montana”--and while it never quite manages to live up to its promising premise, it has enough amusing moments here and there to almost make you forget that it never quite achieves its full potential.

Rainn Wilson stars as Robert “Fish” Fishman, a gangly goofball who once had a brush with rock stardom in the 1980‘s--he was the drummer for a metal group named Vesuvius until he was cruelly dumped by his bandmates just before they hit the big time--and who never recovered from the experience. After getting fired from the latest of a string of dead-end jobs, the result of some Vesuvius-related workplace rage, he winds up moving in with his sister’s family. Coincidentally, his nephew, Matt (Josh Gadman), is a member of a garage band whose upcoming gig playing at the prom is threatened when the drummer gets in trouble at school and has to drop out. When no other substitute can be found, Matt convinces his fellow band members, sullen lead singer/guitarist/lyricist Curtis (Teddy Geiger) and pouty bassist Amelia (Emma Stone), to bring in Uncle Fish as their new drummer for the big gig. The show isn’t a complete success--let us just say that while there is never a good time for a drum solo (at least not since the days of the Grateful Dead), Fish manages to pick an exceptionally bad time for his--but there are a couple of moments when they all seem to be coming together and Fish vows to build on that by trying to get the group some actual shows to play. Through circumstances too silly to go into, Fish manages to do just that when a video of the band rehearsing via webcam featuring him drumming in the altogether (possibly inspired by Will Ferrell’s unique percussion moves in “Stepbrothers”) gets posted on YouTube and becomes an instant sensation--partly because of the grim spectacle and partly because people actually seem to like the music.

Picking up on their under-the-radar popularity, a record company weasel (Jason Sudeikis) comes around with offers of a record deal and a tour for the group. Naturally, the parents of the younger members are a little queasy at the thought of their kids going out on the road but Fish convinces them to let them go by assuring them that he will serve as the voice of adult responsibility. That attitude lasts about five minutes and before long, Fish’s notions of what a rock star should do on the road (trashing hotel rooms and scouting for groupies) gets them all in trouble. At this point, Kim (Christina Applegate), who is Curtis’ mom and who still nurses a few memories of her own days in a band, joins the tour in order to keep an eye on the kids and, more importantly, Fish. As a result, Fish begins to grow up but, inevitably, the once tightly-knit unit begins to fracture when Curtis becomes upset about his mother’s apparent relationship with Fish and the label weasel uses it as a wedge to convince the other member to dump Fish for a younger and hunkier replacement. In other words, history seems fated to repeat itself, especially when Curtis signs them up for their biggest show to date, a concert where they will serve as the opening act for Vesuvius.

The idea of following an up-and-coming band as they negotiate the pitfalls of early stardom has inspired a number of movies over the years--“The Commitments” and the sadly underrated “That Thing You Do” immediately come to mind--and it is fairly obvious that “The Rocker” wants to follow in their footsteps, albeit with a much broader sense of humor. The difference between those films and “The Rocker” is that in those earlier efforts, the filmmakers actually displayed an interest in the reality of an unknown band tasting the fruits of popularity for the first time and as a result, the events that transpired maintained an edge of plausibility that helped to inform the proceedings. By comparison, “The Rocker” is a film that just wants to be a broad and raucous comedy (though not too raucous, so as not to threaten the all-important PG-13 rating) and is more concerned with giving viewers one scene after another of Rainn Wilson acting like a goof for 90-odd minutes in bits that will look good in a two-minute trailer. This isn’t necessarily a bad approach for a film like this to take and indeed, there are some very funny minutes to be had here and there. However, because there is nothing substantial for them to either come from or bounce off of, the gags pop up, score a giggle or two and then evaporate from the mind so quickly that you’ll feel as if you never actually saw it in the first place. (The day after I saw the film, someone asked me what I thought of it--I said it had some funny stuff in it but I couldn’t think of a single one when pressed.) The emphasis on jokiness in the screenplay by Maya Forbes & Wallace Wolordowsky also means that the little backstage details that might have helped sell the premise are left to the wayside as well. Thanks to the influx of magazines like “Entertainment Weekly” and “Rolling Stone” and any number of infotainment TV shows, your average audience member now has a fairly good working knowledge of the goings-on in the entertainment industry and many of them will dismiss “The Rocker” as being wildly implausible because it lacks the kind of specific detail that might have helped add an extra layer to the proceedings. Here, even the blandly edgy “alternative” songs that the band rides to fame upon aren’t very convincing--they sound more like what a clueless studio executive thinks that the kids are listening to today than anything else--and because of that, you don’t even believe that the group would have hit it big with such utterly anonymous tripe. (Then again, I suppose that this could be an exceptionally subtle joke about the lousy taste of the contemporary music-buying public, though I somehow doubt it.)

Another problem with “The Rocker” is that while it does have a bunch of funny people in the cast, none of them really get much of a chance to cut loose and show what they can do. As Fish, Rainn Wilson certainly throws himself into the role with plenty of zeal and enthusiasm but for the most part, what he offers up is basically a friendlier incarnation of Dwight Schrute, the classically clueless dork that he plays every week on “The Office” (though this version has evidently traded beets for beats in regards to a personal obsession), and while he gets laughs here and there, this performance is nowhere near as memorable as, for example, the similar one played by Jack Black in “School of Rock.” Then again, at least he gets actual comedic material to work with, which is more than you can say for Christina Applegate. Even though she has been showing off her considerable comedic chops ever since her days as Kelly Bundy on “Married With Children,” the film never really takes advantage of her abilities and instead of figuring out a way of letting her get some laughs, she is instead playing the boring voice of reason who is either condemning Fish for his childish hi-jinks or praising him for his youthful enthusiasm. Along the same lines, Emma Stone, who scored a few laughs and turned a few heads as the object of Jonah Hill’s desire in “Superbad,” turns up here as the female member of the group but again, instead of giving her anything of substance to do, the biggest developments surrounding her character involve her unrequited crush on the dopey lead singer and her worries that she isn’t pretty enough for a video shoot. (She even gets stuck playing the bass, which seems to be the go-to instrument for most movie bands featuring one token female.) Reliably funny people like Jeff Garlin, Will Arnett and Jane Lynch also turn up briefly but wind up disappearing from the scene before they can generate much comic inspiration either. In fact, the only member of the cast who makes a considerable comedic impact is Jason Sudeikis as the record company sleaze, the kind of weasel whose ass even Artie Pupkin would cheerfully kick in a heartbeat.

And yet, despite the extensive problems with the film that I have enumerated above, “The Rocker” is not completely without merit--it contains a couple of big laughs here and there (I especially enjoyed the director of the group’s first music video explaining his concept for the piece) and quite a few smaller ones scattered throughout--and it is better than the kind of film that usually gets dumped in multiplexes during the last couple weeks of summer. Alas, it has the bad fortune to appear in theaters right on the heels of two truly inspired comedies, “Pineapple Express” and “Tropic Thunder,” and even the most indulgent viewer is going to recognize that this one comes up short by comparison. Not only that, as I mentioned earlier, there have been many great comedies about aspiring rockers struggling for success and again, this one comes up short by comparison. To put it more bluntly, this film is to “This is Spinal Tap” what playing an old Aerosmith classic on “Guitar Hero” is to playing one on an authentic guitar--they may contain the same notes but in terms of talent, effort and payoff, the former simply cannot compare to the latter.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17117&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/20/08 01:34:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2008 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/11/09 gc great music, Wilson is good, but Sudeikis owns this one 3 stars
10/02/08 Ashley Nicole Hendershot-Wetherington Not farcical enough to be a spoof; not sensible enough to be serious drama. 2 stars
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  20-Aug-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-Jan-2009


  DVD: 27-Jan-2009

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