Saturday, December 22, 2007

I took it in the face and walked as hard as I could

The Judd Apatow produced Jake Kasdan film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is something of a departure from the more emotionally honest comic beats that have been Apatow's comic bread and butter for the last several years. Walk Hard is a broad spoof more along the lines of Airplane or Blazing Saddles though it isn't quite consistent enough to stand beside those two films. It IS however head and shoulders above more recent genre spoofing found in the likes of (shudder) Date Movie and Epic Movie. The reason for this being that the creative team has found a ripe subject (musical biopics) and found the kinks in the armor. The film also has a powerful weapon in lead John C. Riley who brings real conviction to Johnny Cash inspired analogue Dewey Cox.

Cox follows the same patterns that the filmic Cash and Ray Charles in Ray established. All three men have humble farm based beginnings that have inciting incidents that culminate in the death of a sibling and/or the loss of a sense. In Cox's case he accidentally slices his piano prodigy brother in half with a machete and loses his sense of smell. His father (Raymond J. Barry) firmly intones that "the wrong kid died" a trope that becomes his catch-phrase throughout the movie. From there he goes on as a teen sensation whose perfectly innocuous song "Take My Hand" causes sexual awakening and disgust to its listeners. From their he sets off with his unsupportive girlfriend-cum-wife played by Kristen Wiig. Cox finds success in the recording studio (run by several orthodox Jews that run all media) with the song "Walk Hard" and from there finds fame, fortune and a frisky partner in the form of Darlene Madison (a very game and incredibly sexy Jenna Fischer). From there it's the typical path of drugs, rehab, family, disco special, lifetime achievement award tribute etc. The film takes the arc and laughs at its conventions while underlining them with aplomb. There is also a gag toward the end of the movie that is down-right Airplane-esque and an absolute classic.

As Cox, Riley hits his marks time and again lunk-headed aplomb and pleasant voice with a genuine Southern twang. He gives this movie something the other movies passing themselves of as parodies lack, actual character. Though the performance may be broad it is deeply felt and Riley knows he needs to bring it to every scene. Fischer and Wiig make for game romantic partners and Fischer especially relishes in being a vixen. There's a moment during one of the film's best song a double entendre filled gem appropriately titled "Let's Duet" (get it?) where she turns her back towards Riley best to put this, offers him her rear. Awesome. Cox also has a reliable backing band comprised of Tim Meadows, Matt Besser and Chris Parnell. I was hoping these guys would get a chance to become to Cox what the channel six news-team was to Ron Burgundy. Unfortunately the needs of the story get in the way and only Meadows get an amusing recurring gag as a hypocritical voice of conscience simultaneously engaging in drug use while trying to warn Cox of the dangers of drugs use. Hopefully the DVD will reveal that these guys had more to do. Jonah Hill, Craig "Daryl from the Office" Robinson and David Krumholtz also have shining comic moments.

These films live and die on their editing and the film lives comfortably in its hour and a half long run time. There's a lot of characters in here and it's nice to see everyone get a moment to shine. Many of these comedy ringers are brought in to essay legendary musical figures. Each time they come across Dewey the film makes sure you know whose being talked to and is double underlined. Its an amusing approach but it may wear out its welcome pretty quick if the novelty of the cameos doesn't do anything for you. The one that will unquestionably work for everyone is when Cox meets the Beatles. John, Paul, George and Ringo are played by Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman respectively. The scene nails the Beatles during their Maharishi days, especially the in-fighting. Lenon has a blistering insult against McCartney that had me ROLLING on the floor in gales of laughter. But the film is ultimately more concerned with ticking ff the checklist of music biopic cliches then to let the best comic scenes room to breathe.
In the end the film works more then it doesn't but it isn't the comedy classic I was hoping for. What absolutely works though is the soundtrack. Apatow has rounded up a variety of song-writers to pen a number of outstanding ditties that serve to spoof various trends in American pop and rock music. The songs not only evoke Cash but also Elvis, the Band, Roy Orbison, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Peter Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, the Big Bopper, Brian Wilson, The Beatles and more. What's especially great is that these songs not only sound accurate to the given artists' styles but they're both pleasant to listen to and incredibly funny. The deluxe soundtrack of the film is filled with gems that were inexplicably cut from the film including the spot on "Boy Named Sue" parody "A Hole in My Pants", and PP&M message songs such as "Dear Mr. President" and "The Mulatto Song." I would heartily recommend the soundtrack to any music fan but recommend the film to fans of broad comedy.

No comments: