August 21, 2008
Rhythm of Rainn Lends Humor to ‘the Rocker’
By Rob Lowman
Rainn Wilson gives a comic beat to "The Rocker," a movie that is otherwise the equivalent of generic rock.The filmmakers probably had Will Ferrell on their wish list to play Robert "Fish" Fishman, a man who has had to tamp down his dream to be a rock 'n' roll star for 20 years, but "The Office" star brings a nice human touch to the role, along with some laughs.
You see, as a youth Fish had been the drummer in a heavy-metal band named Vesuvius that was poised on the brink of stardom. He gets dumped when a record company offers the band a deal, but only if they'll use an exec's nephew on drums.
A couple of decades later, Vesuvius is mega-big and headed for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Fish is in Cleveland in a dead- end job, from which he gets fired, and then his girlfriend kicks him out of their apartment. Forced to move in with his sister (Jane Lynch) and her family -- he sleeps in the attic -- he gets an unexpected second chance.
His nephew, Matt (Josh Gad), loses the drummer for his band, A.D.D., that is about to play a high-school dance. So they hold tryouts, but Uncle Fish proves the best option, especially after he awakes from a stupor, stumbles down from the attic and scares off an auditioner with a drum machine in an amusing scene that will have some people cheering.
Despite its name, A.D.D. is a smooth pop-emo band headed by singer-songwriter-guitarist Curtis (Teddy Geiger) and bass player Amelia (Emma Stone); so you know that musical styles are going to clash. And they do when Fish's out-of-control heavy-metal instincts take over when the band plays the school dance.
He's kicked out of the band -- and he's kicked out of his sister's house. But Fish is a man who desperately wants to live his dream and nothing will stop him, even though he has now moved into the steaming-hot, rat-infested basement of a sushi restaurant. He eventually convinces the group to take him back, though they are forced to practice separately, linked up by computer-video. (Did we mention the kids are all whizzes?)
Because of the heat, Fish plays naked, and when Matt's younger sister posts a video on YouTube of the bare-ass drummer and the band, suddenly A.D.D. is hot. (Some of the music-industry stuff in "The Rocker" is pretty imaginary, but dumber acts have become real hits because of the video Web site.)
The movie plays most of the expected riffs -- there are conflicts within the band (not to mention with their parents), and A.D.D. will ultimately cross paths with Vesuvius. The kids and the music are pretty much right out of "High School Musical" casting, so watching Wilson work his lunacy as Fish is the real fun.
Ferrell would likely have made Fish bigger than life, like Ricky Bobby in "Talledega Nights." But that was a raunchy comedy in which Ferrell was the star. The innocuous "The Rocker" seems mostly aimed at tweeners (Geiger is a bit of a youth heartthrob), with Wilson as comic relief. But at least he makes us care about Fish, a man caught between his youthful fantasy and the hard reality of aging and having to earn a living -- as much as he'd like to ignore the latter and plunge into the former. While Wilson can play funny, he also makes Fish recognizable as a "I coulda been a contender" middle- ager.
Too bad "The Rocker" didn't give Wilson more support, but then drum solos can only carry you so far.
Rob Lowman (818) 713-3687
THE ROCKER - Two and one half stars
>PG-13: drug and sexual references, nudity, language.
>Starring: Rainn Wilson, Teddy Geiger, Emma Stone, Josh Gad, Christina Applegate, Jane Lynch, Jeff Garlin.
>Director: Peter Cattanneo.
>Running time: 1 hr. 42 min.
>Playing: Area wide.
>In a nutshell: Wilson is better than the material.
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