Rocker, The (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Rocker, The Poster

What if they made a Jack Black movie and Jack Black didn't show up? That's sort of the feeling I get with The Rocker although, truth be told, Rainn Wilson does an admirable Black impersonation. This warmed-over, recycled stew brings the "comeback" concept so favored by sports movies into the rock-and-roll arena. It's pure formula, devoid of any creative impulses and, perhaps most damningly, the moments of genuine humor are too few and far between to be worth mentioning. For every clever line or amusing sight gag, there are fifteen minutes of lame dialogue and lamer plotting. The Rocker is more disappointing than it is outright bad. One expects something a little fresher from Wilson.

Back in the '80s, Fish (Wilson) is the member of the heavy metal band Vesuvius who is left behind when the group hits the big time. After jettisoning their drummer, Vesuvius becomes a chart-topping sensation and Fish ends up working at a call center and frothing at the mouth whenever anyone mentions the "V" word. 20 years later, Fish is granted a second chance when the garage band ADD needs a drummer for a prom gig. The band, comprised of teenagers, comes to Fish only as a last resort. He initially refuses but his nephew, Matt (Josh Gad), the group's keyboardist, sends him on a guilt trip that gets him behind the drums. The other two members of ADD are the guitarist, Amelia (Emma Stone), and the angst-ridden singer/songwriter, Curtis (Teddy Geiger). The prom performance is a disaster because Fish loses control, but a freak YouTube video featuring him drumming in the nude goes viral. Suddenly, Fish and ADD have a chance at a breakthrough.

Everything you expect to happen in this movie happens. It is assembled from stock parts taken off the script-by-numbers storeroom shelf. Fish, the biggest bozo in the world at the beginning of the movie, has turned into a loveable clown by the end. He gets his revenge on the guys from Vesuvius. There's a half-baked romance between Fish and Curtis's hot mother, Kim (Christina Applegate). Curtis and Amelia find each other, and Matt hooks up with a cute fan. ADD has a "family spat," but it's resolved relatively cleanly. Am I giving too much away? Not really. The storyline is so derivative it's not necessary to see the movie to predict everything that will happen.

Rainn Wilson is a funny enough guy in his own right, so it's a mystery why he's channeling Jack Black for the majority of the movie. Maybe he just finished watching School of Rock or Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny. Wilson's biggest laugh comes as a result of his baring his buttocks while drumming. The film's comic timing is consistently off, although this could be as attributable to director Peter Cattaneo as to Wilson. Despite getting second billing, Christina Applegate barely registers. Kim is the definition of an unnecessary character shoehorned in to give Fish a love interest and provide an adult female role. The actors playing the three younger members of the band are okay, although Emma Stone bears a remarkable resemblance to Linsday Lohan.

The film sets itself up for a fall in its opening moments when the first appearance of Vesuvius recalls Spinal Tap. For a movie as satirically weak as The Rocker, prompting viewers to remember the incisive and hilarious This Is Spinal Tap is not a good thing. Triggering an association with a vastly superior motion picture is a bad move, even if it is done inadvertently. Then there's the music. The Rocker provides us with a stack of lifeless, canned heavy metal "originals" and expects us to believe we're hearing works of genius. Or maybe this is a subtle commentary about how easily pop culture adopts crap and anoints it as fresh and original. Unfortunately, there's nothing in the tone or approach of The Rocker to indicate such a subtext is reasonable.

Movies like The Rocker, which are a dime a dozen, get pushed into the late summer because they have no chance of surviving in a more competitive environment. Frankly, this one shouldn't thrive in any environment. This is pre-packaged entertainment, a product designed to give bored teenagers something to watch on a Friday or Saturday night when steamy summer nights are getting longer and Labor Day is just around the corner. Its only other value will be when it shows up on cable in a year and offers respite for insomniacs.

Rocker, The (United States, 2008)

Director: Peter Cattaneo
Cast: Rainn Wilson, Christina Applegate, Josh Gad, Emma Stone, Teddy Geiger, Jane Lynch
Screenplay: Maya Forbes & Wally Wolodarsky
Cinematography: Anthony B. Richmond
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:42
U.S. Release Date: 2008-07-30
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1