Walk Hard probably started out to be a spoof of the rock-era musical biopics.
It took about half of the story of Ray and half of I Walk The Line and combined
them to form the faux-bio of Dewey Cox, who was sort of the Forrest Gump of
contemporary music. Ol' Dewey wasn't the brightest guy in the world, but he was right there with
everyone, eternally changing his style of music to suit his times and surroundings. He
was in India with The Beatles, and backstage with Elvis, the Bopper and Buddy
Holly. He sings with rappers, MoTown artists, folk rockers, doo-woppers,
hippies, old-time blues guitarists, psychedelic rockers, punk rockers, you name
it. He sings like Bob Dylan, Pat Boone, Johnny Cash, and more. The film incorporates
brief performances from Lyle Lovett, the Temptations, Jewel, Jackson Browne, and Ghostface Killah. You may think, "Wow, that's a lot to cover in one film!" and
you'd be right. Not only does that agenda serve to pack the film too full, but
it is further jammed by the fact that Dewey does not sing mere snippets of
songs. Virtually every one of his performances consists of a full-length song,
and he gives many performances.
That's a lot of music.
If you go to this film thinking you will see a typical Judd Apatow comedy,
well, there is some of that, but you need to prepare yourself for the fact that
there's only about a half-hour of typical Apatow humor. The rest of it consists
of lengthy parodies of different musical styles. It's a musical comedy, heavy on
the music. The songs are consistently clever, but they are witty without being
laugh-out-loud funny. They supply the kind of humor that makes one nod in
appreciation of what they are doing and in recognition of their excellent
mimicry. The writers and John C. Reilly manage to ape every musical style you
can think of, but sometimes you get the feeling that they wanted to create a
best-selling soundtrack album rather than a best-selling movie, because the
songs are too good, too much like the real thing. John C. Reilly does a better
job on singing than he does on clowning, not because he lacks the talent for the
latter, but because that's the way the film is structured. And the man can sing.
I think the film's pace would have been more appropriate to comedy if each
musical parody had been a short visit to the era's comical highlights rather
than a meticulously accurate but dragged-out set piece.
I started this essay by saying that the film probably started our to spoof
musical biopics. It didn't end up that way. The way it's handled here, with the
existing mix of comedy and music, the film is not really a spoof of a musical
biopic, it IS a musical biopic, albeit about a guy who never existed, who is
singing songs you've never heard before. If Spinal Tap was the mockumentary for
heavy metal, Dewey Cox is the mockumentary for every other form of music which
was popular in the second half of the twentieth century. If you are expecting a
zany comedy, you might find a pretty a good one in there somewhere, but it's a
very, very short one sandwiched in between long and elaborate musical numbers.
Some of the best comedy pieces involve:
* The ridiculous things Dewey Cox buys when he jumps from poverty to rock star
wealth (a giraffe, for example, which eats dinner with the family)
* A parody of the Beatles in their psychedelic Yellow Submarine era, complete
with Peter Max-style animation, as performed by the unlikely foursome of Justin
Long, Jack Black, Paul Rudd, and Jason Schwartzman. Long and Rudd are quite
funny as Harrison and Lennon, complete with appropriately
exaggerated Liverpudlian accents, but the funniest concept is that Jack Black
makes no effort at all to look like Paul McCartney. He basically just plays Jack Black
with an accent of some kind,
but declares himself to be Paul McCartney! The Beatles segment ends in a
fistfight between Lennon and McCartney, as shown below:
I think you will still enjoy the film if you enter the theater knowing what
it is and accept that in advance, but I also think the critics were probably
much too easy on this film, for reasons not apparent to me.
unrated DVD version is 120 minutes long, 24 minutes longer than the theatrical
cut. The extra time consists of (1) additional celebrity cameos (2) more and
longer musical numbers, especially in the period when Dewey had his campy TV
show (3) more nudity.