Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

If nothing else, at least it can be said that Walk Hard is not just another lame, humorless attempt at lampooning a popular genre. Perhaps due to the co-authorship of Judd Apatow or perhaps because Jake Kasdan aspires to be more than this generation's version of ZAZ (see: Airplane!, The Naked Gun), this film works better than the countless recent failures to come before it. That's not to say it's comedic brilliance. A lot of the jokes don't work. There are times when the movie spins its wheels. And the songs are rarely funny or clever enough. But there are laughs to be had and, perhaps surprisingly, I found myself caring a little about the character of Dewey Cox as the story develops. Sure, he's a walking collection of cobbled together clich├ęs, but John C. Reilly provides him with a human quality that never gets lost amidst all the physical comedy and double entendres.

Although the film draws from a variety of sources, Dewey is most obviously patterned after Johnny Cash. Dewey's first big hit, "Walk Hard," is the kind of thing the Man in Black would have felt comfortable singing and it's done in a voice that sounds eerily like Cash. Dewey's one true love, Darlene (Jenna Fischer), echoes June Carter Cash (or at least Reese Witherspoon channeling June Carter Cash). For the most part, this is Walk the Line as filtered through the sensibilities of Judd Apatow. After all, the "real" Cash bio-pic didn't have a guy hanging around in the buff. (And I use the phrase "hanging around" with a literal intent.)

Dewey (Reilly) is an underachieving Alabama boy who lives in the shadow of his can-do-no-wrong brother until a memorable day when a fake machete fight turns bad. The events of that afternoon inspire a lifelong refrain from Dewey's father: "The wrong kid died." At the age of 14, Dewey leaves home with his soon-to-be-bride, 12-year old Edith (Kristen Wiig). While Edith nurses babies, Dewey nurses his dream of becoming a music star - something that comes true when Dewey fills in at a nightclub for an ailing singer and gets noticed by a prominent music producer. Soon, Dewey has a #1 hit and is on tour. The temptations of the road, including women and drugs, overcome him. He has soon fallen in love with his backup singer, Darlene, and is on his way to rehab.

The movie is more clever than hilarious, unless the unexpected sight of a man's penis is the kind of thing that sends you into paroxysms of laughter. (I have never understood why the naked male body is supposedly funny while the naked female body is not - unless it's Kathy Bates.) The jokes come Airplane! style, with the saturation approach providing enough of them that when one fails, the next one isn't too far behind. One of the more clever tweaks is that Kasdan uses Reilly and Wiig to play their 14 and 12-year old counterparts (without any digital de-aging), aping the long-standing tradition of having adult actors playing teenagers. The scenes with the Fab Four are delightfully vicious (Jack Black is Paul, Paul Rudd is John, Justin Long is George, and Jason Schwartzman is Ringo). They introduce Dewey to acid and involve him in an animated sequence. But there are things that don't work nearly as well and recall the general overall failure of Talladega Nights (which Apatow produced) - sequences that are obviously more amusing to the filmmakers than to the viewers. Overall, Walk Hard is in many ways comparable to Anchorman - uneven in the extreme but enjoyable on balance.

Apatow, Kasdan, and Reilly have indicated that the musical aspects of Walk Hard are heavily influenced by The Rutles and This Is Spinal Tap. Unfortunately, the film is weakened by the comparison because the satirical aspects of Walk Hard fall significantly short of either predecessor. Reilly, who warmed up his vocal chords in Chicago, does an impressive job both singing like and mimicking Johnny Cash. He makes the character sympathetic and believable to a degree. The diamond in the rough is Tim Meadows - the drummer who provides drugs to Dewey - his scenes are consistently funny.

Walk Hard is a disposable film that offers its share of small pleasures and amusements. It's not a great picture or even an especially good one but it can provide an alternative to the wave of serious dramatic movies that are rolling into multiplexes at this time of year. This is the weakest of the three 2007 comedies to which Apatow has attached his name. For those who enjoy the saturation style of humor and appreciate the way in which parody is not pushed too far into the absurd, Walk Hard is not without merit.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (United States, 2007)

Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows
Screenplay: Jake Kasdan & Judd Apatow
Cinematography: Uta Briesewitz
Music: Michael Andrews
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 2007-12-21
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity, Drugs)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1