by Mel Valentin
If itís August, then the blockbusters of summer have come and gone. In their place, movie studios have turned to male-oriented comedies, from "Step Brothers" a few weeks ago, to "Pineapple Express" and "Tropic Thunder" and now "The Rocker," a comedy centered on a failed drummer who gets a second chance at fame just as he hits forty. Directed by Peter Cattaneo ("Opal Dream," "Lucky Break," "The Full Monty") from Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarskyís ("The Larry Sanders Show") screenplay (with story credit to Ryan Jaffe, his first), "The Rocker," a sweet-natured, family-oriented PG-13 rated comedy, is a welcome antidote to the R-rated comedies and their gross-out gags that have dominated the last month of the summer.The Rocker opens on Robert 'Fish' Fishman (Rainn Wilson), the drummer for an Ď80s hair metal band, Vesuvius, that includes lead singer Lex (Will Arnett) and two band mates, Kerr (Fred Armisen) and Trash (Bradley Cooper). When the rep for an A&R company likes what he sees in Vesuvius, he offers to sign them to a potentially lucrative deal, but only if they get rid of Fish. It takes them all of two minutes before they decide to dump Fish for a new drummer. Twenty years later, Fish is stuck in a dead-end job as a customer sales rep, stuck in a going nowhere relationship with Carol (Jane Krakowski), and still bitter over his close call with fame, fortune, and women twenty years earlier. After an at-work freak out, Fish is jobless. Minutes later, Carol dumps him. With no place to go, Fish ends up moving in with his sister, Lisa (Jane Lynch), her husband, Stan (Jeff Garlin), and their son, Matt (Josh Gad).
"Man-child in the promised land of milk, honey, and rock'n'roll."
The shy, awkward, overweight Matt plays keyboards for A.D.D., a band headed by Curtis (Teddy Geiger), a soulful singer-songwriter-guitarist and their mutual friend, Amelia (Emma Stone), on bass. A.D.D. is due to play at the Senior Prom just two days away. After their drummer gets grounded, Matt suggests Fish join them for a one-night gig. Fish ruins the bandís performance, but convinces Curtis to give him a chance. If, after recording a demo, Fish canít get A.D.D., then heís out of the band for good. Due a fortuitous stroke of luck involving YouTube, A.D.D. gains the attention of an A&R rep, David Marshall (Jason Sudeikis), who offers to sponsor a tour for the band, along with recording time in the studio. Along the way, A.D.D. gains a chaperone in Kim (Christina Applegate), Curtisí very single mother and a gig opening for Vesuvius.
While The Rocker wonít win any awards for plausibility (much of it is implausible, some of it improbable, but little of it impossible), itís consistently funny, even occasionally hilarious, without resorting to juvenile gross-out gags (with a cringe-inducing exception involving Fish, a hot basement apartment, and his drum kit and another involving bodily fluids). Most of the humor in The Rocker is either verbal or physical (as in slapstick), but it rarely goes dumb for humorís sake. Fish may lack self-awareness and maturity (heís a man-child in the promised land of rock when he gets his second chance), but heís rarely, if ever, dumb. Thatís refreshing enough as it is, but The Rocker works as well as it does because it never succumbs to easy or cheap sentimentality. Even Fishís character arc, predictable on the surface, doesnít feel contrived or manipulative. Instead, it feels earned (a rarity in comedy)."The Rocker" wouldnít succeed, however, without an engaging cast and that Cattaneo has from the top-down, from Rainn Wilsonís Will Farrell-like turn as Fish to surprisingly convincing turns from Josh Gad, Emma Stone, and Teddy Geiger (who performs the bandís songs). While Vesuviusí songs are spot-on hair metal imitations, the songs written by the fictional Curtis for A.D.D. are just as good, if not better, facsimiles of alterna-pop ballads written and performed by a twenty-something musical artist working through painful emotional and psychological issues. Ultimately, Cattaneo and his screenwriters deserve credit for mixing several, potentially dissonant comedy sub-genres, all the while pacing "The Rocker" with hummable, purchase-worthy tracks.
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originally posted: 08/20/08 18:13:03