Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Robert "Fish" Fishman (Rainn Wilson) and a trio of his Cleveland buddies create a headbanging, Spinal Tap-esque band known as Vesuvius in the eighties. They are living the rock 'n' roll dream and seem on the road to fame and fortune. But if the band wants to take the next big step to a record contact they have to dump their sweaty overweight drummer Fish. It takes them about ten seconds to make their decision.
Twenty years later, Fish is a broken man in the midst of a mid-life crisis. He's stuck in a mind-numbing nine-to-five job while Vesuvius is about to be inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of fame. Ouch! Fish can barely contain his bitterness. Then his nephew Matt (Josh Gad) suddenly needs a drummer for his garage band, A.D.D. (it stands for Attention Deficit Disorder). With no one else to turn to, Matt convinces Fish to join the band. Fish resists at first but then finds himself revived by his much younger band mates and by playing rock and roll again. The band takes off through a twist of Internet fate as a rehearsal video of the group, featuring a naked Fish, hits it big on YouTube (everyone wants to see "the naked drummer") and draws the interest of an agent and a record company. Will Fish finally get his second shot at fame or will history just repeat itself?
Josh Gad, Teddy Geiger, Emma Stone and "ancient" rocker Rainn Wilson (Fox Atomic)
The Rocker is essentially a one gag movie - place an over the hill rocker in with some kids and let him be the immature one egging them on to live out his vision of the rock and roll lifestyle. You won't find any of This is Spinal Tap's smartness or inspiration here. Instead, you get a predictable "don't give up on your dreams" formula comedy. Wilson scores well as a kind of more subdued and taller version of Jack Black's character in School of Rock. Wilson's Fish has fun imposing his rock and roll standards on everyone - there's a nice scene where he ejects a guy who uses a drum loop. Fish's insistence that the kids live up (or down depending on your point of view) to an 80s notion rock stardom provides some laughs. The story also plays on the notion that we do have a generation of adults and parents (Christina Applegate plays a single mom who was in an all-girls punk band as a teen) who grew up on rock and roll, and who may actually connect with the lure of rock and roll dreams. That may be the one somewhat fresh idea the film brokers is that a couple of the parents are actually sympathetic to their kids' dreams of life on the road in a rock band. Although Jane Lynch provides plenty of nagging and discipline, Applegate and the dad played by Jeff Garlin resist demeaning their kids or condemning rock and roll as "devil music" and instead prove unexpectedly supportive.
Christina Applegate is a single mom and former punk band member who now finds herself chaperoning her son and Rainn Willson's over the hill drummer on tour (Fox Atomic)
Wilson plays a familiar character - a man who refuses to grow up but who eventually finds a path to adulthood, but without having to completely give up his rebel spirit and goofy charm. Wilson proves likable but never moves past sketch comedy superficiality in Fish. He's fun to watch in a painful sort of way. But Wilson fails to develop much rapport with his three young co-stars Josh Gad, Teddy Geiger and Emma Stone. The film, although it tries to convince us not to label people, does its best to serve up mere character types - lovable nerd (Gad), brooding creative lead singer (Geiger), and punky-goth-rebel chick (Stone). These types are not nailed for maximum comic impact nor are they challenged for any humorous insights. They are presented at face value for modest amusement.
Cattaneo struggles with the film's tone. There are moments of absurd physical comedy (as in the opening where Fish displays Michael Meyers-like indestructibility as he tries to get revenge on his Vesuvius ex-band mates); gross out gags (like Fish vomiting in his hand and then putting the goop in his pocket for good luck); and then Cattaneo goes for sweet sentiment in the final stages. The mix proves awkward and the film feels disjointed and uneven. The songs are not as inspired as the Spinal Tap ones or as fun as those in Tenacious D but they're tolerable.
The Rocker (rated PG-13 for drug and sexual references, nudity and language) provides mild diversion and for a film about rock and roll that might be damning praise. Think of it this way, if Spinal Tap took rock and roll comedy to 11, The Rocker takes it to about a 4 or 5.
Companion viewing: This is Spinal Tap, Almost Famous, School of Rock, Tenacious D