The Rocker (2008)

3 Jul


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Rainn Wilson is usually known for his deadpan-comedic roles, particularly with his memorably downplayed-and-funny role as tight-ass Dwight Schrute in TV’s “The Office.” And I don’t know about you, but to me, it’s refreshing to see him perform in a broader style of comedy, which is the case in “The Rocker.” This is the kind of energetic, physical comic-style acting that Jack Black uses to unique effect. And while there are flashes of Black in Wilson’s portrayal of rock-n-roller Robert “Fish” Fishman in “The Rocker,” you still see Wilson, and he’s more than welcome to entertain us in this way.

I can see a lot of people, or critics are something close to “people,” calling “The Rocker” a shameless ripoff of “School of Rock.” But to me, that’s like saying “Superbad” is a shameless ripoff of “American Pie.” Elements are similar, but execution and added themes and story elements make what you can take from whichever, in this case. Doesn’t every film nowadays have to be inspired by something out of other films? It’s what you can add to it that matters.

Besides, I don’t even see much of “School of Rock” in “The Rocker,” aside from the central character being a washout rocker that gets his redemption. So I can’t exactly argue further with that concept. I’d just wind up becoming lost and confused in the point. Instead, I’ll just review “The Rocker” as it is.

“The Rocker” begins in 1986, which the colorful set design of the stage where we see a rock band performing doesn’t let us forget. That rock band is known as Vesuvius, the hottest band to score a heavy record deal. Unfortunately, that deal requires them to sell out and drop their drummer, Robert “Fish” Fishman (Wilson), to have an executive’s son take his place.

(By the way, that leads to a very funny horror-film type of scene in which Fish chases down the rest of the band as they attempt an escape. I don’t care if Fish running as fast as their van is very silly; it still made me laugh because of Wilson’s wide-eyed determination and the band’s screaming reactions. And it gets better when Fish uses his drumsticks as lethal weapons.)

Cut to 20 years later, when Fish has anger issues, particularly whenever Vesuvius, now hotter than ever and earned a spot in the Cleveland Hall of Fame, is mentioned in front of him. Now he’s lost a(nother) job, has been dumped by his girlfriend, and is now living in his sister’s attic. His nerdy teenage nephew, Matt (Josh Gad), plays keyboard in a band with his friends, broody singer-songwriter Curtis (Teddy Geiger) and Goth bassist Amelia (Emma Stone), calling themselves A.D.D. Needing a drummer to play for the high school prom, Fish agrees to step in and play with them…leading to a meltdown when Fish loses control as the band performs Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” Feeling guilty, Fish decides to help A.D.D. in landing a gig to make the band known to the public. But fate runs its course as a YouTube video featuring the band practicing (with Fish drumming naked—don’t ask) suddenly becomes viral and A.D.D., with Fish as drummer, has a chance at a career.

We get the standard stuff here with what you’d expect when A.D.D. becomes big—they play different gigs, they become better-known, they go on tour, they film a music video, and eventually, they go through conflicts such as having to ultimately open for Vesuvius. There isn’t anything terribly new in “The Rocker,” but it’s still entertaining and funny and even touching in certain spots. There are many quotable lines of dialogue and very amusing moments, such as why the tour bus driver (Howard Hesseman) uses citizen-band radio, the music-video director’s (Demetri Martin in a funny cameo) overly precise direction, and arguably the funniest, any time Jason Sudeikis is on screen as the band’s slimy manager. Sudeikis gets the funniest one-liners in the movie, including “John Lennon’s rollin’ over in his grave to hide the boner you just gave him!”

There are many moments I found amusing and fun in “The Rocker,” but there is also room for character development, not only with Fish but also with the young band members. Curtis has abandonment issues, which serves as a tool for writing his songs, and now that he’s gaining success because of his words and vocals, he sometimes forgets what Fish of course recalls along the way, that they don’t rock just for fame and fortune. Amelia is a non-smiling punk-girl who becomes more emotional and happier as the film progresses. Matt is an insecure geek that eventually gains confidence and hooks up with a cute fan. I liked these characters. They seemed like real teenagers; their dialogue and interactions with each other seem credible. The actors—Teddy Geiger, Josh Gad, and Emma Stone—play them in an effectively earnest way.

There are other game actors that do well with what they have in “The Rocker.” There’s the standard love-interest that takes a liking to the man-child Fish. She’s actually Curtis’ mom, adding more to the awkwardness that Curtis has to go through later on. Christina Applegate plays the role and she does a fine job, although I have to admit, the relationship between her and Fish feels rushed and not completely fleshed out. But there’s also Fish’s brother and sister, played very well by Jeff Garlin (very funny in a doofus sort of way) and Jane Lynch (in a “tough-love” sort of way). And then, there’s Will Arnett in a brief role as the leader of Vesuvius—without giving away his change of personality in his return late in the film, Arnett is freaking hilarious here.

Sometimes, “The Rocker” will miss its mark on a few jokes/gags (particularly a pratfall early on that seems pretty forced) and a few pop-culture references come close to overdoing it. But mostly, thanks to a steady tone by director Peter Cattaneo (of “The Full Monty” fame), a load of flat-out funny moments, an admittedly-catchy soundtrack (I have to say, I was humming a few of these songs), and a zanily wonderful leading performance by Rainn Wilson, “The Rocker” is gentle, as well as fun, and it rocks. But for goodness sake, stop comparing it to “School of Rock.” True, that film may be superior, but this is a lot of fun too.

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