December 20, 2007


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Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (R)
Dewey Cox is a man of big dreams who rises above the tragic death of his brother and his equally tragic loss of his sense of smell to become a rock legend, a man who, indeed, walks hard, in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

You could pretty much sum up this movie with a line spoken early on by Tim Meadows, who plays Sam, a fellow musician and lifelong friend of Dewey’s. As a stage manager anxiously calls an older Dewey Cox to the stage, Dewey leans against a wall with his head down.

“Dewey Cox needs to think about his entire life before he plays,” Sam says. Thusly does the movie kick off a flashback that is indeed Dewey Cox’s (John C. Reilly) entire life.

As a young boy (Conner Rayburn), he accidentally cuts his older, more talented brother in half with a machete. His father (Raymond J. Barry) never forgives Dewey and, from the pressure, he loses his sense of smell.

“The wrong kid died,” Pa Cox tells Dewey, even when the eight-year-old is learning to play a guitar and sing the blues like he’s an 80-year-old man from the Mississippi Delta.

Flash forward a few years and a now 14-year-old Dewey (Reilly, yes, playing a 14-year-old) is the lead singer in a high school band that sings about holding a girl’s hand, causing the women in the audience to rip off their clothes and the ministers to declare it “the devil’s music.” After reminding him once again that the wrong kid died, Pa Cox kicks Dewey out of the house for good and Dewey takes Edith (Kristen Wiig), the 12-year-old girl he met that night and decided was his girlfriend, with him. Dewey pledges to reach his dreams and Edith pledges to stand by him.

Flash forward another few years and a still teenaged Dewey has a large (and growing) flock of children that a bedraggled and bitter Edith cares for while he pursues his dreams by working as a janitor in a blues club. Though Edith doesn’t believe in him, Dewey keeps walking hard, grabbing the attention of record industry types and recording songs that define him, songs like “Walk Hard,” a phrase that, after he repeats it several times during a fight with Edith, he decides to turn into a hit for his new band.

Playing his way to the top, Dewey meets Elvis (Jack White), The Big Bopper (John Ennis), Buddy Holly (Frankie Muniz) and eventually even The Beatles (Paul Rudd offers up a particularly delightful bad impersonation of John Lennon). And, one day, while holding auditions for a female vocalist to sing a duet — titled, appropriately, “Let’s Duet” — he meets Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer).

Of course the rock star life isn’t all fun — along the way Dewey Cox picks up all possible addictions and soon finds himself dirtying his squeaky clean image by having anonymous sex and doing lots of drugs. “This is a dark period,” (or some dirtier version of that) Dewey cries out during one such episode.

On a recent episode of the radio show Fresh Air, I heard the movie’s creators say that they wanted there to be no subtext in this film, just text. Walk Hard brilliantly achieves this. This is a subtlety-free movie. The closest it gets to deeper meaning is the double-entrendre-laden “Let’s Duet.” If Knocked Up was Judd Apatow’s tortured romantic comedy, then Walk Hard is his comic reward. It’s a movie that is pure fun and doesn’t have to insert greater truths into the boob jokes and potty humor. He uses the rather considerable talents of Reilly to faithfully recreate the early rock music and the musical bio-pic the movie is skewering while still holding up this Oscar-bait genre for some much-needed good-natured ribbing.

As over-the-top goofy as Walk Hard often is, it’s clearly not an easy piece of comedy to create. You have to work hard at sight gags like this: Dewey Cox vowing that he’s going to avoid temptation and then yelping as he comes around a corner only to see … The Temptations. Or the fight that the whiney Beatles get in with each other. There’s the much-appreciated humor of the 40-something Reilly claiming to be 14 and the equally wonderful (and way too true to movie life) unconvincing aging makeup inflicted upon Reilly, Meadows and Fischer as the movie goes forward. Watch one of those weak parodies like The Comebacks and you see how much work it takes to make a movie this delightfully stupid. A-

Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language. Directed by Jake Kasdan and written by Judd Apatow and Kasdan, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is an hour and 38 minutes long and will open in wide release on Friday, Dec. 21. It is distributed by Sony Pictures.