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Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

click to enlarge The life of a rock star: The blonde in the background - really is in the background. No Photoshop tricks.
  • The life of a rock star: The blonde in the background really is in the background. No Photoshop tricks.

*Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (R)

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Tinseltown
It's a fine line between stupid and clever, and if you wanna walk that line, you gotta walk hard and walk strong and walk straight and walk, um, clever.

Yeah, that's it.

Well, no, actually, that's not right. You wanna stumble more onto the clever side of the line than the stupid side in fact, you wanna walk entirely and purposefully on the clever side, if you can manage it.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a sendup of music biopics, surprisingly manages to do this despite coming partly from producer and co-writer Judd Apatow, who has been responsible for some of the most juvenile attempts at comedy of late: Knocked Up, Superbad, The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Maybe Apatow just needed to get away from sex comedies. Maybe he needed to team up sooner with Jake Kasdan, his co-writer and director here.

Kasdan's movies have been much smaller but much smarter than Apatow's: like the sweet, snarky tweaking of the television industry in this year's The TV Set and 1998's Zero Effect, an off-kilter noir mystery featuring a modern incarnation of Sherlock Holmes. It's clear Kasdan's sensibilities dominate Walk Hard, tempering Apatow's teenage-boy giddiness at getting to goof on such juiciness as illegal drugs, illicit sex and rock 'n roll with a skewering eye. Instead, it looks with a critical moue at how we celebrate bad behavior, and how we approach pop culture on the whole.

John C. Reilly cutting loose like we haven't quite seen him do before, though his performance in the NASCAR sendup Talladega Nights comes close is Dewey Cox, a contemporary of Elvis and Buddy Holly, as influential to rock 'n roll as The Beatles.

We're familiar with the sad, ironic tale: how Dewey overcame early adversity (family tragedy and a debilitating handicap) to triumph as a world-famous singer and performer (and husband three times over, and father to seemingly countless offspring) before booze and drugs and all that exhausting sex took him down. Then comes his triumphant comeback.

Reilly does all his own singing, by the way the tunes are terrific, actually, though the lyrics are snarky and he sounds like Roy Orbison, looks like Bob Dylan and acts like a brilliant madman. If Walk Hard were nothing but a comic tour de force from one of the most underappreciated actors working today, that would be enough. But there's a lot more going on. The flick is pulling the legs of flicks including Coal Miner's Daughter, Ray and a whole lotta Walk the Line.

But it isn't merely aping their clichs and tossing in a fart joke or three: This is a razor-sharp dissection of the new archetype of modern mythology the rock star and how we interact with him on a societal level. Like, say, making worshipful biographical movies about him. It's deftly cheeky and bursting with a smart appreciation of the entirety of the pop culture of the last half century. But it's also about us, and what we expect from our heroes. Which means, too, that the high markers of each decade in pop culture from the '50s through to today get a workout.

Put Walk Hard down as one of the great music satires ever made. Sure, only This Is Spinal Tap came before it, really, but now there's this one, worthy enough to snort some coke backstage with that classic. In a metaphoric, archetypal way, of course.

scene@csindy.com

  • It's a fine line between stupid and clever, and it's much better to be clever.

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