When I first saw the trailer for The Rocker one thought came to my mind almost immediately: "If this was made five years ago, Will Ferrell would be the star." As that thought faded, it was replaced with a desire to see it. That's right, I was actually anxious to see this! I could not imagine it being terribly good, but there was something about it that gave me hope that it would be at least an entertaining movie.
I had a feeling that my enjoyment of this movie would be directly proportional to my enjoyment of '80s-era metal. Fortunately, that era was when my love of music was initially birthed, with early favorites including the likes of Def Leppard and Poison. Ahh, those were the days. Now, having seen the film, I find that it is not a terribly good movie, but it is not a bad one, either. It is the kind of movie that coasts on an easygoing level of comedy and builds up lighthearted good will throughout.
As The Rocker opens we are introduced to Robert "Fish" Fishman (The Office's Rainn Wilson). Fish is the drummer for up and coming metal act Vesuvius, and we catch up with them on stage at the tail end of a strong performance. As the band celebrates backstage, they learn that a major label wants to sign them to a contract, but with one caveat. In order for them to go to the next level, they have to ditch the drummer. A moment of contemplation later and Fish is out and the band is on the rise.
Skip ahead two decades and we catch up with Fish, working in a call center and holding onto his long simmering grudge against Vesuvius, especially since the band is now among the biggest on the planet. A short time later we meet Fish's nephew, the chubby Matt, who has a band of his own, called A.D.D., that is slated to play the school prom. The problem arises, and the plot takes off, when they are stuck without a drummer and are forced to turn to the much older Fish to fill in on the kit.
The prom does not go all that well, but Fish is still seen as their best shot at staying together. This is especially true when Fish promises to find them a gig. A few setbacks later, the band finds they are unable to get together for practice, a happening that proves to be just what they need to launch their career. Connected via webcam, the band practices. The catch comes when you discover that Fish practices nude (sounds like something Will Ferrell would do, doesn't it?). A video of the practice ends up on YouTube, making him and the band almost an overnight sensation.
As A.D.D. go on tour, Fish sees it as an opportunity to make up for twenty years of lost time, while the kids remain pretty much unaffected as they just want to play their music. This leads to an inevitable confrontation with Vesuvius (made up of Will Arnett, Bradley Cooper, and Fred Armisen) and the underdog tale of the little band that could.
The movie is not nearly has funny as I would have hoped and the story is not nearly as strong as it could have been. That said, I still liked the movie. I know that sounds weird, considering the overall weakness of the film. I am sure you are wondering just how this could be. The answer is simple: the movie has heart. It does not try to reinvent the genre, and it does not try to go outside the boundaries. It sets its course along a single path of possibility and hands the job over to the performers to try and inject enough heart to make us care about the characters to draw us in and keep us invested. Well, it seeks to do that and make you laugh, and the laughs are there, just not as loud and frequent as they could have been.
Directorial duties were handled by Peter Cattaneo, whose biggest work to date was the 1997 Oscar winner (Best Music, nominated for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay) The Full Monty. His work here is workmanlike and none all too special; however, the material is not terribly demanding and does not require nor need flashy direction. He keeps everything movie at a pretty good pace, not leaving any time to become bored.
The screenplay by husband/wife team of Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky is serviceable, although lacking in depth. The biggest problem, for me, is the lack of development in the romantic subplot between Rainn Wilson and Christina Applegate. I suspect this may be due to editing more than writing, as I think a chunk of this plot was cut for some reason. Still, while the screenplay may not dig all that deep, it does provide some strong one-liners and appears to have a strong affection for its characters.
Rainn Wilson does a fine job of holding strong at the center of picture. The guy is funny and he brings this infectious enthusiasm with a balance of genuine emotion to a character that easily could have gone way over the top (excepting the opening scene, of course). His job here does show promise for future lead roles, which is a good thing. The supporting cast is generally good, although Teddy Geiger's performance felt a little weak and did not ring true for me. Both Emma Stone and Josh Gad turn in good work as the other two band members. However, it is Jason Sudeikis as a slimy agent who steals scenes with some great one-liners and impeccable delivery. On the other hand, Christina Applegate does a good job despite being horribly underused.
Bottom line. I really enjoyed this film. It is an easy watch that never failed to please this viewer. Plenty of laughs, no matter how small, a large supporting cast that does well, however underused, and in the end they tell a story that I liked. Isn't that what we all want? A story that is told well and draws us in?