Dir. Peter Cattaneo US . 2008. 102 mins.
Sitcom star Rainn Wilson (the US version of The Office) makes a disappointing transition to big-screen headlining with The Rocker, a mostly flat School Of Rock rehash directed by The Full Monty's Peter Cattaneo. The broad Fox Atomic comedy certainly won't do for its star what The 40 Year Old Virgin did for Wilson 's Office castmate Steve Carell. It may, with pop idol Teddy Geiger co-starring, work briefly as late summer counter-programming for teens, tweens and their baby boomer parents, but the video market seems to offer the most potential.
Originally set for a pre-summer launch, the film premiered at the CineVegas Film Festival in early June and opens wide in North America through global distributor Fox on August 1 opposite action adventure The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Fox will need to use all its youth marketing expertise to secure an audience in the face of competition from a rash of late summer comedies, among them Carell's Get Smart.
Openings in major international markets continue through August and September. Audiences could be even harder to come by here, though interest might spike in territories where the American version of The Office (originally, of course, a British series) is seen on TV.
In a spandex-heavy prologue, Wilson's rock drummer Robert 'Fish' Fishman is dumped by fast-rising eighties metal band Vesuvius. Twenty years later, the still-bitter Fish has no job and is sleeping in his sister's attic. But when his nephew's fledgling indiepop band - with nerdy Matt (Josh Gad) on keys, punky Amelia (Emma Stone) on bass, and moody Curtis (Geiger) writing the songs - reluctantly lets him take the drum stool, Fish sees a second chance to live the rock'n'roll dream. After winning over the kids' sceptical parents, he helps the band get a tour that soon leads to a showdown with the now legendary Vesuvius.
Surprisingly, given the backgrounds of scriptwriters Maya Forbes (The Larry Sanders Show) and Wally Wolodarsky (The Simpsons), the comedy is more physical than verbal. There are a few clever one-liners but for the most part the film goes for basic slapstick and sub-Spinal Tap rock'n'roll satire, a mix that seems designed to please pre-teen as well as adult moviegoers but may leave both groups unsatisfied.
Cattaneo lets the story unfold at a uniform pace, with no build-ups in momentum to boost the comedy, which is punctuated - more and more as the story goes on - by lightweight drama. Fish gives each of his bandmates in turn a quick life lesson, there's the hint of a potential romance between him and Curtis' single mum Kim (Christina Applegate), and Matt, Curtis and Amelia each get brief romantic moments of their own.
The moments don't add up to much, though, and the dramatic arc ends up feeling even narrower than it usually is in this kind of story.
The pop culture references - to MySpace, YouTube and Guitar Hero, for example - are a little forced, though one does, after a good deal of set up, give rise to a fairly funny episode in which Fish's nude drumming gets the band noticed by an oily record company exec.
Wilson - who is developing a cult following as The Office's irritating Dwight Schrute (the US version of the UK series' Gareth Keenan) - throws himself into the slapstick, but his performance is one-note and his character isn't as likeable as the overgrown adolescents played in comparable recent comedies by Carell, Will Ferrell and School of Rock's Jack Black.
Gad (recently seen in 21) gives the story its loveable-loser character, real-life teen singer-songwriter Geiger - who should considerably boost the film's teen appeal - is believable as the darkly handsome Curtis, and Stone (from Superbad) is underused as the spiky Amelia.
Besides Applegate, the strong supporting cast also includes Will Arnett (from Arrested Development), Jane Lynch (from The 40 Year Old Virgin) and Jeff Garlin (from Curb Your Enthusiasm).
20th Century Fox
Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky
Anthony B Richmond