Dir Stephen Herek. US 2001. 107 minutes

Fortunately for Mark Wahlberg, Rock Star is being released close enough to the ill-fated Planet Of The Apes to erase the memory of that disastrous film from viewers' minds. Shedding his bulky astronaut suit for form-fitting leather pants, he plays a wannabe rock star who gets a shot at the big time, only to learn first hand the wisdom of that old adage, "be careful what you wish for" While the demands on the actor aren't up there with Boogie Nights or Three Kings, he once again reveals himself to be a charismatic performer with an ability to suggest an inner sweetness and innocence no matter what the outer circumstances (the porn industry, the Gulf War, the sybaritic universe of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll). Due in large measure to Wahlberg's name recognition, Rock Star looks likely to do a whole lot better than last year's Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe's critically-acclaimed but commercially disappointing portrait of the "Purple Haze" generation.

Rock Star takes place in the early 1980's and concerns Chris Cole (former, real life hip-hop artist Wahlberg), a sweet-natured, music-loving office machine repairman who is so enamoured of the heavy metal band Steel Dragon that he has formed a tribute band. On stage, Chris is the embodiment of his idol, lead singer Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng), not only duplicating the latter's sexy snarl and R-rated swagger, but also perfectly imitating his fiery vocals. Although frequently at odds with his band mates -"You don't know where Bobby ends and you begin," protests best friend and lead guitarist Rob (Olyphant) - Chris has the enthusiastic support of his family and longtime girlfriend Emily (Aniston), who also serves as the band's manager.

When the members of Steel Dragon dump Bobby and go looking for a new frontman, they tap Chris, who has also just been kicked out of his band. Catapulted to the big time, Chris suddenly finds himself surrounded by screaming fans, willing groupies and sycophantic handlers. As he slowly becomes seduced by this new lifestyle, he finds the most important people in his life drifting away, either turned off or shut out by his new fame.

Well structured, energetic and easy on the eyes, Rock Star is so tame it almost could have been rated PG-13 (it earned its R for relatively minor infractions of language, sexuality and drug content). More of a fairy tale than a cautionary drama about the perils of celebrity - Chris learns valuable life lessons without having to suffer - Rock Star offers an appealing ride throughout, although the first half is noticeably stronger than the second. Wahlberg and Aniston make a lovely and believable couple although, in keeping with the film's air of make-believe, Emily is an almost impossibly understanding girlfriend.

A dynamic group of real-life rockers and good-looking actors provide solid backup both vocally and visually, with Dominic West particularly magnetic as Steel Dragon guitarist Kirk Cuddy. Top acting honors, however, go to Flemyng who steals the movie with his one big scene, an emotional harangue to his former band mates which manages to be both heartbreaking and comic.

Prod co: Bel-Air Entertainment/Maysville Pictures/Robert Lawrence Production
US dist: Warner Bros.
Intl dist: Warner Bros/StudioCanal
Prods: Robert Lawrence, Toby Jaffe
Exec prods: Steven Reuther, George Clooney, Mike Ockrent
Scr: John Stockwell
Cinematographer: Ueli Steiger
Prod des: Mayne Berke
Ed: Trudy Ship
Music: Trevor Rabin
Main cast: Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston, Dominic West, Jason Flemyng