Just what is "The Rocker" trying to do? Broad spoof? Gentle comedy? Generic sitcom? I'm not even sure the filmmakers know for sure.
The problem is that the movie is all premise and no purpose. The joke is this: twenty years ago, Robert "Fish" Fishman (Rainn Wilson) was booted from a heavy metal band just as they were about to hit it big; he's now asked to play drums for his nephew's garage band, but he just can't get over his kitschy, outdated hair metal habits.
Except, that is, whenever the movie needs him to not be goofy. The script, from Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky (from a story by Ryan Jaffe), can't figure out how to handle such an all-out Will Ferrell/Jack Black-style caricature, so Fish yo-yos from wacky over-the-top loser to charming eccentric to friendly everyman to delusional nitwit, and back and forth again, over and over, on the whims of the plot.
Consider the opening scene, placed back in 1986, showcasing Wilson and costars Will Arnett, Fred Armisen, and Bradley Cooper in leopard print spandex and Aqua Netted perms. The comedy here is exaggerated: Fish outruns a speeding van before getting run over without getting hurt. It's loud and obvious and not very funny, but hey, whatever.
Compare that to the scenes that follow, which show Fish as a likeable sad sack. There's no outrunning speeding vans here, just the occasional shot of him in his underpants, har har. He's a bit of a dolt, sure, but nothing over the top. Pick a tone, movie.
The bulk of the film plays out as a series of borrowed ideas, clichéd conflicts, and unfinished plot threads. After a video of a naked Fish lands on YouTube, the band becomes famous, and embarks on a nationwide tour that's one part "Almost Famous" parody and three parts "That Thing You Do!" rip-off, with a pinch of "School of Rock" thrown in for good measure.
Along the way, there's a jokey scene about them dealing with a pretentious video director (Demetri Martin), and there's some stuff about Fish falling in love with the lead singer's mom (Christina Applegate), and every now and then Fish does something to get them all arrested, and then there's the kooky tour bus driver (Howard Hesseman) who sits in the corner of the story and fills in jokes when the script runs low. Keyboardist Matt (Josh Gad) is stuck delivering a blurry copy of Jonah Hill-esque sarcasm. Singer Curtis (Teddy Geiger) and bassist Amelia (Emma Stone) sorta fall in love, or something. Fish's brother-in-law (Jeff Garlin) occasionally gets inspired by Fish's freewheeling antics, but only when the script remembers to mention it.
It's all such an undercooked jumble, all these moments and bits and sitcom situations, the writers determined to shove in whatever half-baked concept pops up, never mind if it fits. Most of these sidetracks - mainly Applegate-as-love-interest and Garlin-as-goofy-dad-who-wants-to-rock - feel like they were shoved in after the fact, without rhyme or reason.
A few of the jokes work, but that's mainly on the strength of the cast, all of whom are willing to look foolish for the sake of a chuckle. Most of the punchlines are lazy and predictable, dopey one-liners about Ashley Simpson's lip-synching and Celine Dion's lameness. Wilson gets forced to rehash his Dwight Schrute brand of clueless pomposity, but it never works, not here, not in this character, not with these jokes. Director Peter Cattaneo, who once gave us the wickedly sharp "The Full Monty," looks like he's barely even trying to tie the whole mess together.
At least the music's not too bad. Geiger, a real-life pop singer, does all the vocals here, and Chad Fischer's pop-rock compositions might not be the edgy alt-rock the script claims it is, but they're nonetheless catchy, fun, and tightly constructed - which is everything you can't say about the rest of the movie.
Note: Fox has supplied us with another of their crummy watermarked DVD-R screener copies, and not final shelf product. As such, parts of this review must go incomplete. If a final retail version arrives, we'll update this review accordingly.
Video & Audio
As mentioned, there's no comment on the video quality, since our version was watermarked and compressed. The film will be presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This review will be updated if a final shelf version arrives.
For a movie built around music, the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack doesn't wow us like it should. But it's plenty serviceable, with solid levels and a crisp delivery during the musical numbers. A French 5.1 dub is provided, as are optional English and Spanish subtitles.
We start with two commentary tracks, one from Cattaneo and Wilson, the other with Gad, Geiger, Stone, and Jason Sudeikis (who plays a slimy record exec). Both tracks are chatty, if light.
Ten deleted scenes (16:11; 1.85:1 flat letterbox) offer more randomness - any one of these could have been shoved back into the picture without improving or worsening the story. One bad choice: cutting out the clever cameo from Pete Best; when your movie's low on good ideas, you shouldn't ditch smart ones like this. One good choice: trimming out much of Fish's more desperate antics on the road.
A gag reel (9:50) consists mainly of unused ad libs and "wacky" flubs.
Matt Gad gets center stage in both the "MTV Reel" (5:51; 1.33 full frame), in which he jokes about being left out of a Q&A panel for the film, and "Matt Gags" (2:36), offering a handful of fairly unfunny alternate ad libs from the young star.
Four "Pod Casts" (9:05 total) feature Wilson interviewing rock legend Slash in some sort of faux-kitschy talk show; they're essentially overlong viral videos meant to promote the movie.
"Vesuvius Gags" (4:09) is another batch of unused improv jokes, this time starring Fish's old band.
Considering his screen time was cut considerably, there's much attention paid to the former Beatles drummer in "The Pete Best Interview" (6:44), which combines an on-set chat between Best and Wilson with patter from cast and crew about their opinions on Best's story.
"Vesuvius PSAs" (1:11) is a montage of the band ad libbing odd public service announcements like "Be serious when you're in a bank." Cute and sometimes funny, actually.
"Rainn Wilson: Office Rocker" (3:31) is a jokey clip in which all of Wilson's co-stars ask if they can be on "The Office."
The mockumentary "Behind the Band: Vesuvius" (2:41) wants to be a clever VH-1 parody, but it's too short to really work.
In "Rock Tales" (6:22), the cast and crew reminisce about their favorite concerts. It's just more filler.
"Rock Beat with Fish Fishman" (2:32) is another to-short mockumentary, this one all about Fish as a pompous lady killer rock god. It has so little to do with the movie itself, with a completely different take on the character. Huh.
A music video for "I'm Not Bitter" (2:49) is sort of a makeshift trailer for the film, as it spends more time showcasing clips and dialogue than the song.
Not enough filler for you? Try "Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with The Rocker" (2:16), a promotional piece in which Wilson recaps the premise of the film. It ends with a commercial for the Fox Movie Channel.
Buried at the very back of the special features, "The Music" (11:15) is the only real substantial piece here. It's a look at the writing and recording of the film's songs, mixed with cast and crew comments on the music.
A batch of trailers for other Fox titles plays as the disc loads.
"The Rocker" is a comedy that can't figure out what it's trying to be, so it aims for everything, and misses. The disc, meanwhile, looks loaded, but it winds up being all quantity, not quality. Rent It.