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  • 15
  • Action, Drama
  • 2008
  • 102 mins

The Rocker

Film4 The Rocker

Synopsis

In this teenie-oldie comedy crossover, a bitter fortysomething ex-drummer rocks the cradle with a band of youngsters. From the director of The Full Monty, Peter Cattaneo

Critic's Review

"Hello, kiddies, are you the band that we're supposed to launch?" This is the question put, near the end of The Rocker, by the aging lead singer of multi-platinum heavy-metallers Vesuvius to the (mostly) young members of their support band ADD. This is indeed ADD's big moment but really this film is more concerned with launching director Peter Cattaneo and leading man Rainn Wilson into the Hollywood stratosphere. Still, the pair probably have a few albums to go before they make it.

Cattaneo is best known for the British comedies The Full Monty (1997) and Lucky Break (1997) but this is his first time directing an American film. Wilson is a comic character actor (with an uncanny resemblance to Alan Carr) who has thus far been largely confined to playing supporting roles on the big screen, like the confidante in My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006) and the drugstore manager in Juno (2007). He is also the familiar face of Dwight Schrute from America's version of 'The Office', and if The Rocker affords Wilson his first big part in a feature, it also dramatises his attempts to break free of his small-screen success.

Wilson plays Robert 'Fish' Fishman, the drummer unfairly kicked out of Vesuvius just before they made it big in the 1980s. Now, 20 years later, 'Fish' is a call-centre drone, still bitter about his lost dreams of a different future, and desperate to get out of his dull life in the office ("Look at me now, day job!", he exclaims in a later scene).

Opportunity knocks when he is first fired and then invited by his nephew Matt (Gad) to play drums for the prom band ADD. Though moody singer/guitarist/writer Curtis (Geiger) and emo bassist Amelia (Stone) do not at first warm to the dinosaur of rock in their midst, Fish's musical nous, combined with some 'full monty' footage of him fortuitously leaked to YouTube, gives the band their 'lucky break'.

A record deal comes, and the fledgling band begins a tour, with Curtis's mother (Applegate) in tow to keep in check any juvenile irresponsibility - especially from Fish, who is trying to re-live in his early forties all the rock-posture fantasies of his youth.

Beginning as This Is Spinal Tap (1984) before morphing into School Of Rock (2003), The Rocker struggles vainly to find its own voice as it keeps playing a tune we have all heard before. Will Fish get to grow up at last but on his own terms? Will Matt overcome his shyness with "ver ladies'? Will Curtis ever realise that Amelia can't take her eyes off him? And will Amelia ever smile?

Let's just say that the four bandmembers follow their prescribed character arcs to the letter while the plot also conforms to your every expectation. Rock and roll may, as Fish keeps suggesting, be all about spontaneity and excess, but everything here feels utterly familiar and safe.

The Rocker is co-written by husband-and-wife team Wally Wolodarsky and Maya Forbes, and while Wolodarsky's previous work on 'The Simpsons' often shines through, it tends to expose the film's shortcomings as a live-action feature.

Sure, many of the lines are sharply funny, and incidental characters (like Jason Sudeikis' odious, pop-culture-spouting A&R man or Demetri Martin's po-faced video director) bring wonderfully observed absurdities to the proceedings, but the main characters are never allowed to rise much beyond being two-dimensional caricatures.

Homer's endless mishaps sit well with the more sophisticated humour of 'The Simpsons' precisely because he is, in the end, a cartoon character, but when Fish keeps engaging in his rather literal brand of head-banging, all the madcap slapstick reduces him to a clown, making it impossible to take him, or anyone in his orbit, even a tiny bit seriously. The balance between different types of comedy never seems even, as though in striving to hedge their bets between younger and older audiences, the filmmakers have just given into a very un-rock-like kind of compromise.

Wilson does his child-man rock star shtick well enough but he is only channelling the spirit of Jack Black and should perhaps for now stick to what he does best himself, back in the office - at least until a better project comes along.

In a nutshell: Amiable enough yet unadventurous and uneven, this may coax the odd big smile from viewers but it never rocks the house.

By Anton Bitel

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Jeff Garlin, Emma Stone, Rainn Wilson, Christina Applegate, Teddy Geiger, Josh Gad
  • Director: Peter Cattaneo
  • Screen Writer: Wallace Wolodarsky, Maya Forbes
  • Producer: Tom McNulty, Shawn Levy

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