Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not Doubly Great

All those self-important musical bio-pics — like Walk the Line and Ray — were due for some mockery, but they don't quite get the ribbing they deserve in Walk Hard. While the film does make fun of many of the conventions of the genre, it's more of an affectionate tribute than a satire, and that, ultimately, makes the film less impressive.

Walk Hard opens backstage at some really big show, where Dewey (a game John C. Reilly) is striking a classic ponderous pose in spotlight against a wall. A wise old black man tells the stage manager that Dewey won't go on until he remembers his entire life. And what a life it's been: as a child, Dewey accidentally sliced his brother in half with a machete, thus angering his father, who keeps saying "The wrong kid died," and filling Dewey's head with guilt. There's the early gig in a black club. The first wife who doesn't support Dewey's dreams. The drug use. The insecurity. The affair with the love of his life. The success. The downfall. Rehab. Rehab again. The comeback. You know the drill.

Along the way, Dewey encounters other musical artists and personnel, and these cameos provide some of the film's biggest laughs. There's Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock as a radio DJ. Freddie Muniz as Buddy Holly. Harold Ramis as a record company executive. And the best of all, Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman and Justin Long as the Beatles. Some of the film's other gags are funny, but few really reach the high of the Beatles scene.

Mostly, you're watching Walk Hard with a smile of knowing recognition. You're rooting for Dewey because while he may be buffoonish at times, he's so sincere, and as portrayed by Reilly, so likable that he's not a cartoon. The music's often funny (especially the song "Let's Duet"), but these are actually some pretty good songs. If Walk Hard really wanted to skewer the musical bio-pic genre, it needed to be more ridiculous and over the top instead of playing it straight. Dewey needed to be more of an unlikely success, a talentless loser, and he probably needed to be played by someone like (gulp) Will Ferrell.

Walk Hard isn't going to put an end to the genre or even change it like, say, the Bourne movies changed the James Bond films. But like its star, it's likable and good fun, even if it's not the brilliant satire I'd hoped for. I'm giving it a B.

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