Monday, January 14, 2008

Critique Hard

Yesterday's Zodiac review was such fun, I thought I'd take a stab at another. Enjoy:

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (d. Jake Kasdan)

There are few genres currently stuffing the multiplex more in need of a satirical kick in the hindquarters than the musical biopic. Whether its Ray or Walk the Line or even Dreamgirls (which is most adamantly NOT about The Supremes), these movies all follow a predictable arc of overnight success, inevitable debauched downfall, and equally inevitable redemption. At their best they provide a little Oscar bait for their stars (hello Jaime Foxx and Reese Witherspoon). At their worst, they reduce the life of an important creative individual to an "E! True Hollywood Story."

The best and the worst of the genre both come in for a drubbing from Jake Kasdan's Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

As a boy, Dewey participates in a tragic incident that will haunt him the rest of his life and inform his creative muse forever. Of course. He gets his big break when the headliner at the club where he sweeps the floor goes down with an injury just before The Big Show and he must go on at the last second. Of course. He marries a stalwart homebody from his hometown, but dumps her for the talented, glamorous back-up singer when he gets successful. Of course. His life spirals down in a swirl of drugs and sex and monkeys. Of course. Will he ever find redemption?

Of ...

But I don't want to spoil anything.

All those "of courses" are, of course, the point of the parody. This isn't a satire along the lines of the Scary Movie franchise, taking potshots at everything that might be remotely recognizable. Rather, this is more in line with the classic Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedies like Airplane!, Top Secret!, and The Naked Gun films. It takes on a specific type of film and gleefully roots around and wallows in the cliches, making them obvious (at times, painfully obvious) for all to see.

John C. Reilly takes on the title role and his acting here is a small marvel. He's an unlikely looking pop sensation but he hits all the notes of Cox's ridiculous life with exactly the kind of awards-chasing earnestness that's required. Within this film's improbable world, you never for a moment doubt that he's an important, hit-making musical force.

My other favorite performance in the film comes from "Saturday Night Live's" Kristen Wiig who gets to take some savage comic shots at my least favorite role in movies: the nagging wife who wants the hero to stop doing all the things that we came to the movie to see, and just settle down and sit at home. You know this character will never get her way, because if she does, there's no movie.

Wiig dives in with relish, perpetually telling Cox that he's going to fail while raising his eighteen or nineteen children. Her shock at seeing him in bed with another woman (of course) is one of the film's high points.

The other woman is played by "The Office's" Jenna Fischer and she also has a lot of fun with her hopelessly cliched role.

There are a number of big laughs here. I particularly enjoyed the aging make-up effects (Reilly plays Cox from the ages of 14 to 71), that are supposed to make you say, "Ooh," but actually make you say, "Eww." Another "SNL" alum, Tim Meadows, scores several times as Cox's bandmate and drug procurer. His impassioned warning about the dangers of marijuana is a gem.

And the musical parodies are dead on. Reilly and Fischer make goo-goo eyes at each other throughout a punning number called, "Let's Duet." And Cox's incoherent, Dylan-esque "deep" song is hilarious.

But for all the fun that's on hand here, the movie drags in spots, runs on too long, and there's a certain amount of, "okay we get it already" with more than a few jokes. It would have benefitted from a much sharper editorial blade (enjoyable as it is to see the producer and director's buddies Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Justin Long, and Jason Schwartzmann wildly miscast as the bickering Beatles, the scene is pointless and goes on forever and isn't nearly as funny as it thinks it is).

This type of comedy is terribly hard to sustain. It tends to collapse under the weight of its own premise. And that, in itself is kind of a cliche. It's the one I hoped the filmmakers would avoid.

But they don't.

Of course.

2 1/2 stars

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