August 23, 2008

It’s Not Just Likable, It’s Got a Good Beat


By Mal Vincent

The Virginian-Pilot

IT'S NEVER too late to rock 'n' roll in the good-natured and pleasantly entertaining "The Rocker."

It's all about a geezer (41?) who was almost a big rock star in the last century, but now is stuck in a desk job. Fish was the manic drummer in the heavy metal outfit Vesuvius some 20 years ago, but when a record executive wanted to replace him with a nephew, he got left behind. The group hit it big, and Fish was left singing a chorus of "I coulda been a contender."

Then, a local garage band known as A.D.D. asks him to replace its drummer (grounded because of bad high school behavior). Uncle Fish wrecks the prom when he interrupts the sweet soft-rock with a sudden rash of heavy metal.

Nonetheless, he gets a gig for the band and, no big surprise, A.D.D. becomes big. When Fish rehearses in the nude (ugh), it somehow gets on YouTube, and that brings lots of attention for the band.

Eventually, A.D.D. and Vesuvius will cross paths.

The best news is that the role of Fish wasn't given to Jack Black. (Although Black, in a rare respite from his usual inanities, was quite good in the similarly warm "School of Rock" in 2003.) Will Ferrell must have been on the wish list, but he's too busy - probably playing this same role in another movie. The part went to Rainn Wilson, who plays a more deadpan doofus in TV's "The Office." He's not very appealing, but he's not as noisy as Black would have been. For that, we can be thankful.

The kids steal the movie from the adults. Real-life rocker Teddy Geiger, who appeared last month at The NorVa in downtown Norfolk, is suitably brooding, complete with intense eyes, as the lead singer and guitarist. His sadness, apparently, is brought about by the fact that his father deserted him and his mom, played by Christina Applegate. Consequently, he sings a lot about sad things. Geiger has charisma, although he has not learned to act. He does suggest, though, a kind of quiet sobriety that is refreshing in a rock band.

Appealing as the underdog is Josh Gad as the resident "fat one." (Every teen group in the movies has to have one). Best of all, though, is Emma Stone as the toughie bassist. Knowingly, she refers to herself as "the punk girl." She seldom smiles, which should mean that she and Geiger should be a perfect match - seriously matched.

Does anyone remember the tasteless prank Howard Hesseman (TV's "WKRP in Cincinnati") pulled some years ago when he claimed he was going to become a disc jockey in Norfolk? Well, Hesseman deserves the bottom-of-the-ladder role he gets here as the band's grizzled bus driver.

The music is pretty much right out of the "High School Musical" genre, which may turn off real rockers, but dumber bands than this have become big hits. The kids play their hearts out, which just may be the best aspect of the movie.

Applegate is delightful as the mom who has to go on the road with the band when Fish's wild ways get the kids arrested. Fish feels that it is a prerequisite that touring rockers should party hard and cater to groupies. The kids, on the other hand, would rather rest and play video games when they're not onstage. Generation gaps! What would we do without them?

Peter Cattaneo, who got an Oscar nomination for directing "The Full Monty," brings a similar naive charm to this. If you liked "School of Rock," you'll like this one. Even if you have never heard of "School of Rock," you'll find it refreshing in a mild TV-movie way.

Mal Vincent, (757) 446-2347, [email protected]



Cast Rainn Wilson, Christina Applegate, Teddy Geiger, Emma Stone, Jane Lynch, Jeff Garlin, Josh Gad

Director Peter Cattaneo

Screenplay Wallace Wolodarsky and Maya Forbes

MPAA rating PG-13 (drug and sexual references, partial nudity, language)

Mal's rating:

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Originally published by BY MAL VINCENT.

(c) 2008 Virginian - Pilot. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.