By the time you read this, it is entirely possible that “Walk Hard,” a very funny comedy that satirizes every rock and roll biopic you’ve ever seen, will not be playing anywhere nearby. This is a shame, especially since it’s the only Judd Apatow-produced movie this year, after “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” that hasn’t been a big hit.
Well, anyway, maybe a movie about a fake rock star doesn’t seem as universal to American audiences as unplanned pregnancies and teenage boys trying to impress girls by bringing alcohol to a party. Oh well. If you like raunchy, but smart, parodies and know a thing or two about rock and roll history, you really ought to check out “Walk Hard” soon.
The movie mostly mines “Walk the Line” and “Ray” for its jokes and does a good-enough job at capturing the tone of those movies to make many of the jokes work wonderfully. John C. Reilly, a wonderful dramatic and comedic actor known by most people for “Talladega Nights” and his Oscar-nominated part in “Chicago,” plays Dewey, who was born in the South and feels compelled to become rock star to make up for his brother’s death when they were little, a nod to the untimely death of Johnny Cash’s brother. In the opening sequence, Dewey and his brother have a blast doing as many dangerous things as they can imagine, such as riding tractors and playing with snakes, finally culminating in the moment when they have a machete duel and Dewey slices his brother in half. Practically every time Dewey’s father speaks for the rest of the movie, he says, “The wrong kid died.”
As with any spoof of a genre, the gags are sort of hit-and-miss, but it’s remarkable how often director Jake Kasdan (“Orange County”) makes them work. Although the movie inevitably loses some steam and drags a little in its second half, I laughed very consistently throughout the first half and still quite a bit throughout the rest. The biggest reason the movie works is because Reilly is such an unbelievable talent. He can break your heart in movies like “Magnolia” and “Chicago,” but can also make you hurt yourself laughing playing big-hearted idiots in movies like “Talladega” and “Boogie Nights.” In “Walk Hard,” he often says lines so ridiculous and/or stupid, that no other actor could probably make work, but take one look at the fire in his wide eyes, and you can’t help but crack up.
The supporting cast is also great and there are too many to name here. Jenna Fischer (“The Office”) is great as a June Carter type who wins Dewey’s heart and Tim Meadows (“Saturday Night Live”) is funnier than ever as Dewey’s drummer.
It’s probably pointless to list some of the gags, but here are a couple of them. Aping the convention of telling the bulk of a rock legend’s back-story completely through flashback (namely Johnny Cash staring into space before playing at Folsom Prison is “Walk the Line”), Dewey stares at a wall before a performance at the beginning of the movie. The tribute concert for which he’s about to play bookends the film, of course. When a stagehand tries to tell Dewey that he’s ready to go on, Dewey’s longtime friend interrupts him.
“Not now,” the friend tells him (I’m paraphrasing). “Dewey has to think before his whole life before every show.”
There is a recurring gag in which the older actors say their ages aloud, spoofing movies who use the starring actor from their high school years until late in their lives. “I’m Dewey’s 14-year-old girlfriend!” the 34-year-old Kristen Wiig shouts in one early scene.
One of the movie’s joys is watching Dewey go through every popular genre of pop music. Probably the funniest scene of this type is when Dewey goes through a Bob Dylan phase. The lyrics make absolutely no sense, but are hilarious nonetheless. Sure, this joke has been done plenty of times in the past, but this may be the funniest Dylan parody yet.
The end of the movie also has some terrific cameos. Before that, Jack White of the White Stripes does an awesome cameo as Elvis Presley.
OK, so describing some of the jokes will probably not hook you, and there’s a good chance that you (depending on who you are and what your sense of humor is) might not get what’s so funny after seeing it. No matter. Those who get it will enjoy it immensely.
Oh, and be warned. A couple of scenes mocking the hedonistic rock and roll lifestyle are very funny but will probably cause a few jaws to drop.
“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” is rated R: No one under 17 admitted without a parent or guardian.