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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rocker (The)

I never thought I’d be rocked by Rainn Wilson in his underpants, but I was. I was either oddly intrigued or noticeably nauseated. But I couldn’t quite decide. I had that feeling you get after you’ve eaten too much “Fair Food” and then gone on the Tilt-a-Whirl four or five times. Is that love or the onslaught of diarrhea?

The truth be told, I’ve been a fan of the improbably monikered actor ever since he showed up on “Six Feet Under” in 2003 as the depressed but passionate mortician, Arthur Martin. Who can resist a horny undertaker? Well, me, for one, but that’s a story for another day. Ahem, since “Six Feet Under,” Rainn has gone on to great success as one of the peculiar denizens of “The Office,” where, as “Dwight Schrute,” he has earned two Emmy nominations for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy. Obviously the guy has the “funny” gene. In both of these tv shows Wilson has been surrounded as part of a strong ensemble of actors. The question now is whether he can headline a movie of his own. The answer, gauged by this movie, would probably be no, but I say that with trepidation because, while
The Rocker is bound to bomb, it is also a lot of fun, and not nearly as rancid as the critics are going to tell you. It also hasn’t got a broad appeal, so it won’t be Rainn-ing on a lot of his older “Office” fans, anyone whose acne has cleared up or who has a legitimate “over-21” ID.

The Rocker has been passed around more often than a liquored-up Lindsay Lohan when it comes to getting a release date, so reviewers approach films like this with caution, assuming that if the studio can’t figure out a good time to promote their own movie then there’s got to be something wrong with it. Then there’s the simple fact that it is being released at the end of August, “the dog days of summer,” when the real dogs of summer movies are dumped on us after all the blockbusters have soaked up their cash and the studios have got nothing left but their “crumbs” to offer.

In this case, the “crumb” is tastier than it looks. Unfortunately, a lot of people will be turned off by th
e poster for The Rocker which shows a full frontal shot of Wilson in his tighty-whiteys, a picture not meant to be hung too close to the concession stand, if you get my drift. If you can get past that, the story itself is quite a hoot. Wilson plays Robert "Fish" Fishman, who back in the mid-1980s, was the drummer for a local hair metal band in Cleveland called Vesuvius just before the band hit the big time. When the band booted him in order to get an “in” with a record producer, Fish was left out in the cold. Then while Vesuvius took off and became wildly successful, Fish faded into bitter obscurity.

For the next twenty years Fishman lived in poverty and resentment, still dreaming of his day in the sun as a rock star. As fate would have it, his nephew Matt (Josh Gad; 21) has a high school band in dire need of a drummer for their one night gig at his school prom where his band, A.D.D., is scheduled to play. From here the story follows Fish and Matt, along with the other band mates, the
tragically disaffected Amelia (Emma Stone; Superbad) and oh-so-depressed-I wanted-to-throw-Prozac-at-the-screen lead singer/songwriter Curtis (real life musician/singer Teddy Geiger who does give the film some good music to listen to) on their own road trip to stardom and maturity, especially Fishman’s, which has long been overdue in coming.

A lot of people are bound to compare this to Jack Black’s School of Rock, but I don’t feel that vibe. Fish really does care about these kids from Day One, even when he seems to be completely out of control. He may “want to party ‘til someone lights (his) b*lls on fire” but he wants to do it with his band mates because he knows all three of them suffer from social phobias and need to get out and get loose. To me, he is more like John Candy’s Uncle Buck than Jack Black’s Dewey Finn in spirit.

Also on board the bus for this road comedy is Christina Applegate (tv’s “Samantha Who?”) as Curtis’ mother. I’ve got to say I never thought I’d live to see the day that sexpot "Kelly Bundy" of “Married with Children” fame would be cast as a mother, and as a smart-and-not-sleeping-with-the-leading-man kind of mother at that. What fresh hell has this world become? At least the laughs are flying high with Jason Sudeikis (tv’s “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock”) as A.D.D.’s high-strung manager, who seems to actually have ADD. He is also as slimy as beach moss with about the same charm. Oh, and those bad boys of Vesuvius? Check them out: Will Arnett (Semi Pro), Bradley Cooper (The Comebacks and tv’s “Alias”) and Fred Armisen (also of tv’s “Saturday Night Live”), all in some of the worst weaves this side of Tyra Banks’ closet.

Forget School of Rock.
The Rocker is more like a pickled version of “The Partridge Family,” so do yourself a favour and “Come on, Get Happy!” by rolling your own bus on down to the Essex Cinemas for some good music and good times, all thanks to The Rocker.

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