K'Ehleyr20 August 2008 at 6:18pmPosts: 8422 (0 today)Status: offline
Rainn Wilson endears, annoys in 'The Rocker'
Famously, guitarist Dave Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica on the eve of the band's big break. It's no secret Metallica went on to become one of the biggest bands in the world, always a step ahead of Mustaine's efforts with Megadeth.
Tragically, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car accident. But he eventually overcame his disability, designing a custom drum kit so he could continue his life as a musician.
"The Rocker" protagonist Robert "Fish" Fishman exists in the fictional headspace between these two real-life rock stars. Booted from glam-rock outfit Vesuvius before the band's massive success, he harbors Mustaine's bitterness and Allen's spirit of perseverance. As a result, Fish is one of those guys who treats a gig at a high-school prom like a headlining slot at Madison Square Garden.
Fish is played by Rainn Wilson, taking cues from two proven comedians: Will Ferrell, for his gangly, beer-gutted, awkward man-child persona, and Jack Black, for his unbridled enthusiasm and mischievous grin.
Common to many of these two actors' characters are chronic self-delusion and cluelessness, traits Fish has in spades. Even if Wilson's performance isn't exactly original, it's to his credit that the character maintains an empathetic vulnerability beneath his somewhat irritating mugging and slapsticky antics.
Two decades after the Vesuvius incident, Fish is working a drudge office job. But then he's fired, evicted from his apartment and forced to move in with his sister and her family. His nephew Matt's (Josh Gad) band, A.D.D., is in dire need of a drummer before the aforementioned prom gig, so Fish is recruited. Smack in the middle of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," he breaks into a wildly inappropriate drum solo, an exquisite exhibition of his overzealous personality.
Fish eventually tones it down a bit behind the kit, gelling better with A.D.D. His insistence upon practicing in the buff becomes a viral smash: a gajillion plays of "The Naked Drummer" on YouTube later, and record labels start a bidding war. Next thing you know, the band is touring the country, and Fish is teaching his teenage bandmates the fine art of hotel-room destruction and binge drinking.
The screenplay chugs along predictably: A.D.D.'s moody, brooding singer Curtis (Teddy Geiger) harbors feelings for bassist Amelia (Emma Stone). And once trouble catches up with Fish on the road, Curtis' sort-of-cool mother Kim (Christina Applegate) invites herself along to supervise, giving Fish the adult supervision he sorely needs.
It's hard to fly the devil horns too high for "The Rocker," considering A.D.D.'s songs, exhibited in several live-concert sequences, are inconsequential and not very rocking at all, sung by the wimpy and uncharismatic Geiger. Also, the fact that a pomp-rock band like Vesuvius survived the '90s and still plays arenas is highly improbable. But the film is buoyed by decent one-liners, mostly delivered by Wilson, who somehow manages to be annoying and endearing all at once.
Sandwiched within this film's standard rags-to-riches plotline and tired tropes about the revitalizing power of rock, there is a single plot device, involving YouTube and Rainn Wilson in his birthday suit. It's the only part of the film that you don't see coming, and also the only five minutes of screen time that's even remotely believable. Because it is such a good gimmick, I won't be a dick and give away the one kernel of respectable creativity this film contains.
As for the rest of this vapid and pointless little trifle, there are few good surprises. Wilson is Robert "Fish" Fishman, who, 20 years before, was dumped as drummer by the ostensibly legendary rock band Vesuvius. He is now a worthless loser who gets dumped by his girlfriend and ends up sponging off his sister.
His nephew's high school rock band finds themselves minus a drummer right before their big prom gig, and the uncle fills in. He's an idiot, but a great player, and although he fucks up the initial show?he turns a Peter Gabriel song into an extended solo?he eventually manages to convince them they will all be rock stars. An accidental internet appearance leads to a million hits on YouTube, and a slimy studio exec (Will Arnett, perfectly cast) shows up and signs them to a record deal.
Soon the band is off on a standard rock film hitting-the-road montage, with Fishman tediously trying to relive past rock & roll glories by drinking too much and defenestrating televisions àla vintage Led Zeppelin. They become implausibly popular in a matter of three months and are asked to open for Fishman's old band. He flips out, leading to the inevitable question of whether the kids should replace the aging, insanely annoying dickhole.
You could lay the blame for this mess on screenwriters Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky, but I think director Peter Cattaneo should have had more sense than to capture their every boneheaded whim. When not relying on trite montages, he keeps everything moving at a glacial pace, slavishly setting up each puerile gag.
An early scene explaining why the band's first drummer had to leave epitomizes the film's tone and pacing. The kid shows up for practice with his mother inexplicably at his side. She forces him to explain why he is now grounded, squeezing every last laugh line out of him. It's just one of many indefensible sequences that Cattaneo should have terminated with extreme prejudice.
Also, he puts far too much weight on Wilson's third-rate rock & roll retard routine. The guy may be funny on The Office as an uptight second banana, but Wilson should have been, well, reigned in. We are bombarded with hideous ass shots and wince-inducing antics, like his character's pre-gig ritual of not just barfing into his hand, but then . wait for it . eating his own barf. The world would be a better place if scenes like that were lying safely on the cutting room floor.
Finally, there are the kids in the band; moody, sensitive singer/songwriter/guitarist Curtis (Teddy Geiger), tough-but-sexy bassist Amelia (Emma Stone) and token overweight nerd Matt (Josh Gad). Let's just say the bland derivative "hit" music they emit is about as forgettable as any of those involved in making it.
It seems like The Rocker shouldn't have turned out to be such an awful School of Rock retread. I remember reading that when Pavement first started out they had an older, drug-addled drummer who would fall off the kit in the middle of gigs. It would seem to suggest there might exist somewhere an interesting movie about a young band and an aging drummer, but this certainly isn't it.