November 30, 2007

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (11/30/07)

Lettergrade: B

I don't know if I'd see it again, but the first time through, at least, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story was pretty funny. I should quickly mention that about 85% of it is primarily a parody of Walk The Line, the excellent Johnny Cash biopic from a few years back, with dashes of Ray, the less successful movie about Ray Charles, thrown in. Parody movies often fall down, I think, because they're more interested in spoofing specific scenes from specific movies rather than developing coherent plots of their own. Honestly, there isn't a lot of story here that hasn't been lifted directly from the two movies I've mentioned, but the picture manages to hold together anyway, probably because it pokes fun at the general history of rock throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s in addition to its cinematic forbearers. Walk Hard doesn't reinvent the spoof film, but the filmmakers understand the conventions of the genré well enough to make a pretty decent one of their own.

A key thing that makes this picture a little above average is that the songs are generally good. Sitting here now, I'm failing to recall any specific melodies or lyrics, but in context of the film, at least, they're amusing and help make the picture seem a little more legit. For that matter, the film is atypically well shot and edited, and most of the major tech components are of high quality. Perhaps that's no surprise, however, seeing as the movie was produced by Judd Apatow, a guy who's recently been associated with several well-made comedies that manage to be smart and very funny while on the surface appearing to be stupid.

The movies Apatow has directed (The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up) generally have a lot of heart, whereas the ones where he is a producer (Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, and last summer's Superbad) are mainly out to be silly. He co-wrote and produced this one, and like the others on his resumé, it is refreshingly R rated and does not wuss out when it's time to drop the f-bomb or show male nudity.

Dewey is played by the hysterically dopey John C. Reilly, who warbles through the songs surprisingly well, and greets the situations he encounters during his rise and fall with enthusiastically dim cluelessness. After the death of his brother following an unfortunate machete accident, Dewey leaves home at 14 and eventually joins up with a band comprised of Saturday Night Live regulars Chris Parnell and a surprisingly funny Tim Meadows. The rest of the cast is essentially a who's who of recent comedy film and television projects, including Kristin Wiig (also from SNL), The Office's Jenna Fischer, from Orange Country (the director's previous picture) Jack Black and Harold Ramis, and various alumni of the Christopher Guest improv comedies including John Michael Higgins and Jane Lynch. They come and go from the picture as Dewey achieves amazing success and loses it all due to his demons and flirtations with illicit substances.

Somehow, the talent of the cast combined with the good production value help the picture transcend the sometimes-juvenile screenplay, which is more successful when parodying scenes that are of the typical rock biopic cloth, and less successful when using Dewey's last name in double-entendre rich sentences such as "I need Cox right away!" and "Remember: It doesn't say Cox unless I say it tastes like Cox!"

While fairly consistently entertaining, the thinness of the plot does begin to wear in the third act a little. The movie is set up somewhat segmentally, so we see a small section of Dewey's life and career before jumping forward a number of years to the next thing. That's probably the right way to do something like this, but the twists are occasionally so random and detached that I caught myself thinking about how (and if) the movie was going to tie it all together, rather than what was in front of me at that moment. I would guess that Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story's target audience probably won't care about that, but it's worth mentioning as a significant stumbling block in what is overall a pretty funny movie.

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