August 28, 2008

‘The Rocker’ Plays Too Heavily on Slapstick Humor


Would anyone even care about "The Rocker" if Rainn Wilson wasn't in it? After all, it's your typical dime-a-dozen comedy where a simple trailer viewing tells you everything you need to know, including the fact that it's probably not the wisest choice at the multiplex. Still, it's the first leading film role for the actor behind Dwight Schrute, the iconic highlight character from "The Office," and there are many of the show's fans that would see pretty much anything with that asset.

But "The Rocker" is hardly a noteworthy start: The movie is big on slapstick humor and in-your-face weirdness with hardly any space open for the slightest surprise, so Wilson's strengths -- impeccable timing and line delivery and an expertise in all moments awkward -- are hardly used with distinction. And speaking of his strengths, picking scripts apparently isn't one of them: You really can't help but wonder why he even bothered with this one.

Wilson plays Robert "Fish" Fishman, who once drummed for Vesuvius, the kind of '80s hair metal band you're bound to catch on VH1 at any given hour. Despite founding and naming the band, a devious record deal resulted in him being kicked out of the band right before they went all kinds of platinum. Twenty years later, opportunity knocks twice when his teenage cousin, Matt (Josh Gad, acting just like the Jonah Hill clone he appears to be), asks him to drum for his band A.D.D., headed by a gloomy heartthrob nursing some daddy issues (Teddy Geiger, surprisingly pretty good at channeling angst). Their shows are less than successful, but once a video of Fish practicing in the buff becomes a Youtube sensation, the band quickly rises to national fame and Fish gets a chance to relive his dream with the kids he's teamed up with.

I know what you're obviously thinking: "School of Rock." And perhaps another way Wilson's performance is wasted is that he awkwardly slips into Jack Black territory all too often and simply isn't naturally outrageous enough to handle it. But "The Rocker" doesn't feel so much like an exact "School of Rock" rip-off as much as what that movie would have been like if it didn't have a genuine love of classic rock giving its humor backbone. Whereas "School of Rock" was wholly predictable but so immersed in the glory days of hard rock that older fans are the ones who could enjoy it most, "The Rocker" merely uses the music world as a dispensable gimmick to string together half witted gags. Also, the fact that A.D.D. is more emo than anything else just adds insult to injury.

The occasional music references here might be one of the few saving graces -- I'll take that perfectly placed Moby namedrop or any of the numerous Beatles jokes over seeing Wilson get hit in the face with a tree branch, or hit in the groin with a telephone, or hit his head against a ceiling, or -- well, no need to catalog. "The Rocker" will hardly be detrimental -- no matter how mediocre it is, it's still undoubtedly going to be the first of many film roles for Rainn Wilson. Still, it hardly does any favors for him at all, or for anyone lured in by his presence.

Jason Silverstein will be a senior at Williamsville North.

Originally published by NeXt Correspondent.

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