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Worth A Look: 22.22%
Pretty Bad: 3.7%
Total Crap: 25.93%

4 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Rocker, The
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by Erik Childress

"Another One For The B-Side"
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: Coming in from the “where have they been?” files is director Peter Cattaneo. If the name isn’t instantly familiar to you, it’s possible you remember a little indie comedy from 1997 called The Full Monty that rode its popularity into several Oscar nominations including Best Picture that year. Don’t worry, I had to do a little research myself to confirm that The Rocker isn’t the first film he’s done since the original score winner of ’97, although it may as well be. (Unless I’m being ignorant to the stateside popularity of Lucky Break and Opal Dream.) Comebacks are a fitting milieu for Cattaneo with The Rocker though; a second chance at the grand stage accompanied by a number of up-and-comers carrying the way. Except that despite its breezy quality and occasional big laugh, The Rocker just never completely clicks as A-side material.

The Office’s Rainn Wilson stars as Robert “Fish” Fishman, a drummer for an up-and-coming ‘80s hair band who is unceremoniously dumped by his mates when the record company demands a replacement in exchange for a record contract. A couple decades later, Fish is making phone calls at an office job and forced to take refuge in his sister’s (Jane Lynch) attic for the time being while being reminded that his old band is about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. (Pretty impressive considering that Black Sabbath, Genesis and The Monkees still aren’t in.) Fish’s nephew, Matt (Josh Gad), has a little garage band of his own. It includes smart aleck guitarist, Amelia (Emma Stone) and brooding songwriter, Curtis (Teddy Geiger). What they don’t have any more is a drummer and with a big gig coming up for them at the school dance, Josh convinces Fish to fill in for one night only.

Fish’s enthusiasm gets the better of him during their climactic number (a cover of Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes that starts off quite nice and becomes a little too Secret World times ten) but he sees potential in the group (and Curtis’ lyrics) and they stick to rehearsing together. That’s when the power of the internet takes over and they become a YouTube sensation (or joke) thanks to Fish’s casual in-the-buff style that dubs him the “Naked Drummer.” Suddenly they have a record executive (Jason Sudeikis) interested in capitalizing on the hype and the group is on the road, joined by Curtis’ mom (Christina Applegate) who agrees to act as chaperone after further antics from Fish worry the other parents.

Mechanically you can see the plot turning its wheels and nearly every turn the script wants to take. To the credit of Cattaneo and writers Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky they continually try to level the more outrageous aspects with some character bonding. Fish playing father figure to Curtis, Amelia trying to up Matt’s confidence into talking to girls while harboring her own feelings for Curtis. Even Applegate’s character evolves from being a bit superfluous to having a spunky past to play off of. Cattaneo molded the screwbally antics with the sincerity rather well in The Full Monty, but here something is always just a couple degrees off with the balance teetering directly back and forth between the two, only with the outrageous bits just a little more front and center.

The biggest obstacle for The Rocker’s tone unfortunately is Wilson’s lead performance. Playing what is unavoidably a second cousin to Jack Black’s character in School of Rock, Wilson comes at the role as if attending the same classes and his moments of immaturity and crassness can’t really hold a candle to what Black was able to pull off so perfectly. Somewhat less problematic is Josh Gad, who was a top level annoyance in a full deck of them in 21. He’s toned it down considerably to play the shy, geeky Matt (and scores an occasional laugh) but its hard not to picture Jonah Hill in the same role and rockin’ it. Teddy Geiger, from the short-lived CBS series Love Monkey and a solid singer in his own right, appears rather uncomfortable throughout bringing out the inevitable transition from moody artist to groupie magnet as more of an obvious plot necessity than a believable character arc. More believable is Emma Stone, who after her turn in Superbad, is becoming the next go-to gal when you need a natural guy’s crush whose sarcasm is the equivalent of a sexy wink. Best of all though is Jason Sudeikis who is to The Rocker what Kristin Wiig was to Knocked Up, a bit player who manages to get a major laugh with every line he utters. Unlike Apatow’s film which was filled with one-liners and characters who had at least three big guffaws apiece, Sudeikis stands out and almost single-handedly provides The Rocker with enough huge laughs to recommend it.

In the end though, one scene-stealer isn’t quite worth a non-matinee, non-rental, non-afternoon-on-cable viewing of The Rocker. Sampling more than a few rhythms from Tom Hanks’ superior That Thing You Do, Cattaneo never quite finds whatever he’s going for. Although the fate (and dialect stylings) of Fish’s ex-band are amusing, it never succeeds as a satire of the music industry or the YouTube generation which got a better skewing on a recent episode of South Park. The director maybe had the opportunity to save himself by delivering on the kind of uplifting, (literally) go-for-broke finale that he delivered with The Full Monty. Those who remember that film’s final shot though and his inability to actually deliver the full goods will now be able to apply it as Cattaneo’s M.O. who completely blows the climax by not providing one single moment or shot that conveys what should be awestruck appreciation on the band’s part for the big crowd they are about to play before. Instead they just kinda get up on stage and go about their business, which is about as fitting a tribute as anyone can give to The Rocker.

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originally posted: 08/20/08 14:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2008 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/12/09 gc great music, Wilson is good, but Sudeikis owns this one 3 stars
10/03/08 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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