Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) / Comedy-Musical
MPAA Rated: Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language
Running Time: 96 min. (director's cut DVD runs 120 min.)
Cast: John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Raymond J. Barry, Margo Martindale, Kristen Wiig, Chip Hormess, Conner Rayburn, Tim Meadows, Chris Parnell, Matt Besser, David Krumholtz
Cameos: Harold Ramis, Frankie Muniz, Eddie Veder, Jackson Brown, Jewel Kilcher, Ghostface Killah, Lyle Lovett, John Michael Higgins, Jack Black, Jonah Hill, Justin Long, Jane Lynch, Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman
Director: Jake Kasdan
Screenplay: Jake Kasdan, Judd Apatow
John C. Reilly (Year of the Dog, Talladega Nights) stars in this music biopic spoof as Dewey Cox, whose troubled days as a youth spurs his venturing out to become someone of importance, utilizing his music skills to land a record contract and catapult to the top of the charts. A bit of philandering, several bouts with drugs and booze, and a loss of connection to what's happening around him all cause Cox to lose his way, only to finally get things right later in life.
Rabid Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin) fans will probably worship every frame of this effort that he shares writing credits with, but I have a feeling that had co-writer and director Jake Kasdan (Orange County, The TV Set) been the only credit on this flick, audiences would probably be half as enthusiastic. That's not to say that the film isn't without merit, but like most scattershot spoofs made nowadays, it only offers a handful of clever moments amid a plethora of awful. At its heart, Walk Hard is simply a spoof on music bio pics, with about half of the film drawing straight from Walk the Line to set the blueprint for the "hilarity" to follow. The problem with the film is that it's too broad in too many ways.
First, it reaches across decades for flicks to lampoon, from Bob Dylan's Don't Look Back to "The Partridge Family" to to Great Balls of Fire to Ray, and does so with very little to tie these little vignettes together. Satires tend to benefit if audiences are intimately familiar enough with the target the satirists are spearing. Given that Apatow's audiences tend to run on the immature side, it's a safe bet to assume that many of the references will be lost on a sizable portion of the potential ticket buyers, who will probably think the filmmakers are just geniuses at being weird, such as a silly acid trip where Dewey meets The Beatles, including an animated sequence a la Yellow Submarine, that is dead on arrival.
This kitchen sink approach doesn't just extend to the reach of Kasdan and Apatow to try to touch as many bases as possible. It also applies to their comedy. From extreme black comedy sight gags to terrible puns, there's no level of comedy too high or low for these gentlemen to pull from. As long as it's funny, none of this would be a liability, but whole scenes go by without so much as a laugh, only offering the semblance of humor because the results are so bizarre, they can't be taken seriously. Take an early scene where Dewey accidentally kills his brother in a machete fight. Why a machete fight? Because it's "so weird, it's funny". Why is it necessary for the brother to be cut in half by the machete? Because it's "so weird, it's funny". What about the appearance of a giraffe and monkey at the family dinner table? You get the idea. The same can be said for about 80% of the gags in the film, which throws the kitchen sink of absurdity at the audience in the hope that we'll follow along and laugh at every random event, regardless of whether true humor value is there or not.
While I'm at least thankful that Kasdan and Apatow tried to make something different here, especially as it isn't nearly as formulaic as many other spoofs that have come out in recent years, I just think their target is too broad and the target audience too limited. Small bits do work, but the larger picture is its own kind of disaster, never congealing into a really satisfying vehicle worth following. It takes more than clichés taken to weird extremes, envelope-pushing penis shots, and dozens of plays on the fact that Dewey's last name sounds like a dirty word to merit a truly good movie. Instead of constructing a story and letting the jokes spring forth from that, they constructed the jokes first, then constructed a story to try to string these random moments together. The result is that the overriding arc of Cox's life is a dreadful slog, with only hiccups of funny bits that occasionally burst forth through the monotony.
©2008 Vince Leo