Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (Columbia Pictures, R)

walkhardheader.jpgJohn C. Reilly, for his part, is note perfect, not only in his singing, but in capturing Dewey’s "aw shucks" stupidity, much as he did as Will Ferrell’s Shake-N-Bakin’ sidekick Cal Naughton, Jr., in Talladega Nights.

 

Judd Apatow is easily the biggest behind-the-camera success story in movies of the last few years, best known for writing really funny TV shows that hardly anyone actually watched (Freaks & Geeks, Undeclared) until the double-whammy of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up knocked audiences for such a loop that even the whiff of Apatow’s involvement gave the teen comedy Superbad incredible advance buzz. While Apatow’s other films have pulled their laughs from placing likable leads into relatable (if exaggerated) situations, his latest aims for straight-up parody, a genre that has been used and abused by a litany of (Something) Movie-titled clunkers. Luckily, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is just as far removed from Not Another Teen Movie as Apatow’s other R-rated comedies were from American Pie-style raunch.

 

The poster for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.As a stand-in, more often than not, for Johnny Cash as presented in Walk the Line, Dewey Cox discovers the blues after accidentally cutting his brother in half with a machete, a mistake his father (Raymond J. Barry) never forgives. When a 14-year old Dewey—already at this point being portrayed by a 42-year old John C. Reilly—plays one verse of a song at a high school dance, the teenage freakout at this "Devil’s music" is enough for Dewey’s pa to chase the boy and his 12-year old child bride Edith (SNL‘s Kristen Wiig) out of his home. An off-hand comment about walking hard inspires Cox to write his personal anthem, a massive hit that propels him into the world of rock n’ roll and, ultimately, into the arms of his back-up singer, Darlene (The Office‘s Jenna Fischer). As his fame increases, he sinks deeper and deeper into the rockstar life of hard drugs, fast women, and self-indulgent artistic re-inventions.

 

Though it is a parody of music movies, Walk Hard is also itself a music movie, and a large part of a viewer’s enjoyment of the movie is based on familiarity with the material being skewered. Dewey steals his shtick from a black blues artist more shamelessly than Elvis ever did, enters his Bob Dylan-esque protest phase, and even attempts to out-SMiLE Brian Wilson with an army of didgeridoo players. Every twist and turn is brilliantly captured by the soundtrack (written largely by singer/songwriter Dan Bern and Candy Butchers frontman Mike Viola) that functions both as a perfect encapsulation of each musical style and a perfect skewering of same—no easy feat. Reilly, for his part, is note perfect, not only in his singing, but in capturing Dewey’s "aw shucks" stupidity, much as he did as Will Ferrell’s Shake-N-Bakin’ sidekick Cal Naughton, Jr., in Talladega Nights. He’s already been nominated for a Golden Globe for the performance; it’s not hard to see why.

 

John C. Reilly and Jenna Fischer sex it up as Dewey and Darlene.Though writer/producer Apatow and writer/director Jake Kasdan succeed wildly at nailing both the fine points of the various musical genres and the myriad of music biopic conventions (Dewey, as he enters his dark period, exclaiming "This is a dark fucking period!" is a metafictional highlight). When they aim for broader laughs, however, they don’t always hit the mark. The very first character in the film throws out a "Cox" joke, a cheap laugh that would work to kick off the movie if it was the only one of its kind and not just the first of dozens. The marquee guest stars are, for the most part, a total bust; Jack White is positively unfathomable in his brief stint as Elvis Presley, while the bizarrely miscast Beatles (Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Justin Long, and Jason Schwartzman as John, Paul, George, and Ringo, respectively) completely fail to capture the potential that the four actors bring to the table.

 

Luckily, there are other actors there to pick up the slack. Dewey’s band, a constant presence, is consistently hilarious, particularly Tim Meadows as the drummer that first leads Dewey down the path to rock n’ roll excess. Fischer nails the necessary mix of sexaliciousness and wholesomeness necessary to sell Darlene, while Wiig is all high-pitched hysterics as Edith, Dewey’s eternally procreating first wife. Dewey’s comically Jewish managers L’Chai’m (Harold Ramis) and Schwartzberg (David Krumholtz, from TV’s Numb3rs) are also good for a few decent yukks.

 

Though there is plenty to laugh at in Walk Hard, the one point at which it really fails is in selling the Dewey Cox story itself. This wouldn’t be a problem if Apatow and Kasdan were offering up a film that’s just for laffs, but in the final act the pair try to twist the tone into an ending that’s meant to be both funny and heartwarmingly poignant, but ends up missing the mark on both. Walk Hard is an enjoyable and very funny film, but A Mighty Wind it ain’t. | Jason Green

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