WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY
Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows, Raymond J. Barry, Chris Parnell, Matt Besser, Margo Martindale
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language)
Running Time: 1:36
Release Date: 12/21/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
So is it a satire or a spoof? They might sound the same, but there's very distinct line separating the forms of parody that's consistently crossed by Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Of course, this is just an intellectual argument to consider the big question: Why isn't this movie that funny? And why does a 90-minute comedy seem to drag on and on? Sure, it's got its moments—some pretty good ones at that—but in its quest to lampoon the musician biopic (a genre in dire need of ridiculing), Walk Hard veers around too much in tone and joke styling to work.
Some of the humor is subtle, subversive stuff, a kind of mild prodding at the conventions of a rise-to-fame, fall-from-grace, rise-to-honor story, and those jokes work. It's when writers Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan, who also directed, abandon the satire and get downright silly that the movie suffers from hit-or-miss syndrome. Unfortunately, a lot of those jokes play for the obvious gag, and the ones that don't are typically more random than in line with the material.
"I need Cox," a stage manager yells (This should give you an idea of the level of sophistication to the gags), but before Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) can go on stage, he has to think about his entire life. So we flash back to Alabama, 1946, where a young Dewey (Conner Rayburn) is playing with his brother, a genuine musical prodigy. They run off to play and, being young, talk about how they have their whole lives ahead of them. We know the brother will die. Will it be by playing with a bull, a tractor, or a horse?
It would be unfair to reveal the means of the brother's demise, but I will say after the clever, unspoken play on the genre necessity, it's the first of the movie's many random, barefaced jokes. Pa Cox (Raymond J. Barry) says the wrong son died, a recurring motif for the man for the rest of the movie. Dewey discovers he has a talent for the blues; after all, he can sing about his dead brother. At the age of 14, Dewey (now played by Reilly, juxtaposed with other actual teenagers), wins a talent show, runs off with his 12-year-old sweetheart Edith (Kristen Wiig), and starts on his path to becoming a musician.
This should sound familiar, and that's because the story is a blatant take on the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. I didn't mention, though, that after tragedy befalls Dewey's brother (in a play on Ray) Dewey loses his sense of smell. The anosmia is one thing, but he also has a family growing larger seemingly on a day-to-day basis, a young wife who tells him, "I do believe in you; I just think you'll fail," and a janitorial job at a nightclub. He comes up with song ideas in the middle of his life ("Don't you dare write a song right now," his wife screams during a fight). This section of Dewey's story works consistently.
Most of the best gags are in this stretch. We have Dewey singing "You Got to Love Your Negro Man" at an all-African-American club. There's his impromptu playing of the title song at a recording studio (The band says, "We don't know this song," to which Dewey responds, with the realistically unlikely but genre-ready line, "Just follow me."). There's the pressure of having to follow the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, and Elvis. And, of course, there are the temptations of the road. Tim Meadows plays Dewey's drummer, who gets the biggest laugh in the slowing movie as he tells Dewey not to smoke pot—and then tells him every reason why he should.
The running gag of Dewey's introduction to new assortments of drugs is quite funny and in the spirit of poking fun at genre necessities. The rehab scene, in which Dewey can't decide how many or how few blankets he needs, is not. When he meets good, Christian back-up singer Darlene Madison (the always adorable Jenna Fischer) and sings "Let's Duet" (a song full of pauses in potentially inappropriate spots), it pokes fun at the sexual tension. When they begin to hit each other in an abusive form of foreplay, it does not. The songs are solid and catchy and move along as Dewey's career goes through the decades (his '60s Dylan-esque nonsense lyrics are funnier than attempts to make fun of LSD-inspired epics), and he meets a lot of famous musicians, real and fake.
He stops in with the Beatles in India (Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long, and Jason Schwartzman play the Fab Four in my order of preference) and takes a Yellow Submarine type acid trip. It's a funny scene, but it goes on too long, which another problem the movie has. Stranger still are the fact that all record producers are Hasidic Jews, Dewey's love for his chimpanzee, and a random penis that takes the forefront camera right in the aftermath of Dewey's first drug-induced party.Apatow and Kasdan's effortless satirical moments are few and far between in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Too many of the jokes are like Dewey's temper tantrums in which no piece of furniture is safe: blunt-force comedy. It's too scattershot to work on the whole.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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