August 28, 2008

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The Rocker (PG-13)
Rainn Wilson argues that you are never too old or too naked to rock in The Rocker, a goofy sweet celebration of metal drummers and their unfortunate hair.

At one time, Robert “Fish” Fishman (Wilson) was the drummer of 1980s metal band Vesuvius. But when it came time for the band to hit it big, another drummer — the relative of a record executive — was subbed in, Ringo-style, and Fish was kicked to the curb. Twenty years later, he’s unhappily droning his way through an office job when a coworker brings in the latest of Vesuvius’ platinum-selling albums and Fish loses first his sanity and then his job. Having been fired from yet another job because of Vesuvius-related difficulties, Fish finds himself dumped by his girlfriend, kicked out of his house and forced to crash with his unsympathetic sister (Jane Lynch) and her family. While hanging out in the attic and not looking for a job, Fish happens to hear some of the drummer tryouts for his nephew Matt’s (Josh Gad) indie band. The band had been scheduled to play their high school’s prom but their drummer was suspended, leading them to mount a desperate last-minute search. Naturally, when the band can’t find anyone else, they turn to Fish, who is both appalling and sort of talented.

After a mishap at prom and a gig-gone-wrong (which lead to the suspension of all the band members), A.D.D. finally begins to find some fame, like all modern bands, on the Internet. Because of suspensions, the band has to practice separately, joined by a live Web feed. Because Fish doesn’t really understand the Internet, he practices naked. Soon, the naked drummer and friends are getting record company attention and the band is offered an honest to rockgod chance to go on tour.

The Rocker doesn’t break fantastic new ground on the basic trajectory of a rock band story but it does have a group of young people with good chemistry. Gad is beginning to be the latest generation’s answer to the need for a young Seth Rogen/Jonah Hill character. Teddy Geiger, who plays the band’s floppy-haired, moody-eyed lead, gives off the aura of sweet-kid-ness but not to such a degree that it makes his character syrupy and intolerable. Emma Stone, playing the band’s sole girl, is the picture of smart-girl-ness. Though at 19 she might be a bit young for the Judd Apatow crowd, she is the personification of the missing female element from those guy comedies. If somehow she and Tina Fey could combine their powers …

Together, the three kids make a good foil for Wilson, who provides the movie with 95 percent of its crazy. (Christina Applegate, playing the single mom of Geiger’s character, offers a nice injection of grownup-ness to keep Wilson’s crazy from seeming creepy.)

The Rocker will not have you doubled over with laughter. It tends to have you “heh”-ing more than guffawing. But it does have some cute lines that elicit actual chuckles — one of my favorites, about a horrible hip young musician provided by the record company: “Look at him. It’s like Abercrombie started making people.” The best lines tend to come from Gad or as throwaways from some secondary character. But Wilson provides most of the movie’s heart as a grown-up who doesn’t want to grow away from his dream. This part of the movie is sweeter than you’d expect and the film overall is softer (and occasionally mushier) than the wacky-fun trailer might suggest. No This Is Spinal Tap, The Rocker is nonetheless a cute little ballad on which to end the summer.B-

Rated PG-13 for drug and sexual references, nudity and language. Directed by Peter Cattaneo and written by Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky (story by Ryan Jaffe), The Rocker is an hour and 42 minutes long and is distributed by 20th Century Fox.