I meant to see The Rocker when it hit the big screen last year, but a couple weeks after its release, I couldn’t find a theater (in freakin’ New York City) that was playing it. Um, that’s not a good sign.
Because I’m still waiting for The Wrestler-equivalent of a music movie (sometimes you have to sit through your No Holds Barred and Ready To Rumbles to finally get that gem), I try to catch every music movie I can. So, this weekend I decided to make it a microwave-pop-corn, buy-a-movie-On-Demand Saturday night.
The main feature–The Rocker.
When the film came out, I know many had doubts about The Office’s, Rainn Wilson, being able to carry an entire film on his own. Could the man that plays Dwight Schrute–one of TV’s favorite supporting characters–be leading man material?
Unfortunately, we never find out. Mere minutes into The Rocker, Wilson–in classic Terminator-style–chases down a speeding van of ex-bandmates and proceeds to stab the vehicle’s roof with his drum sticks, before being tossed off into the street. This is just the first of many physical comedy bits forced on us by the film.
For the remainder of the movie Wilson falls, trips, bumps his head, makes wacky facial gestures, and–surprise–even gets hit with the gratuitous groin shot. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
In the few scenes that Wilson is allowed to act, he actually comes off quite sincere, especially in his scenes with Christina Applegate, who plays the mother of the lead singer in his band (we’ll get to that in a second). But all too often, Wilson’s character plays it way over-the-top. In a half-hour Nickelodeon show it would work, in an hour-and-a-half movie, it doesn’t.
In The Rocker, Wilson’s character, Robert Fishman, gets kicked out of the 80’s hair rock band, Vesuvius, right before they sign their first record deal and become international rock superheroes.
Twenty years later, Fishman bounces around from job to job, and flips out anytime he hears the word Vesuvius. After getting fired from another job–because he tackled a co-worker for making him listen to (take a guess) Vesuvius’ new album–Fishman moves in with his sister’s family.
The week before his nephew’s band, A.D.D., is supposed to play a gig at the prom, the drummer bails, and the band is left with no other option than to ask Fishman to step behind the kit for them.
In full 80’s attire, Fishman takes the stage and ruins what seems like a good gig after playing a big-rock drum solo in the middle of a ballad. The band later forgives him and asks him to be their full-time drummer. When Fishman is kicked out of his sister’s house for attempting to take A.D.D. to a gig, the band is forced to practice via web cam, where Fishman plays drums naked. His niece then takes the video clip, posts it on YouTube, and presto A.D.D. gets a major label record deal through the popularity of “The Naked Drummer.”
I’m sure you can guess what happens from here: A.D.D. go out on tour, get their name on marquees, ride around in a tour bus, deal with a sleazy manager, make a music video, and land a supporting gig for guess who?
Ironically, for a film about a rocker trying to escape his hair-rock past, the movie feels like it was made in the middle of the 1980’s. Besides the YouTube clip, the notion of a young band getting a tour bus, a blurb on MTV News, and shooting a music video on a soundstage, all while being controlled by a cliché-ridden manager seems 10-20 years past its prime. If The Rocker was legit, A.D.D. would be riding in a van and selling their own merch.
I could forgive all of The Rocker’s transgressions if, at least, the music scenes were believable. They weren’t. I can’t tell you how much it irks me in movies when someone sounds like their singing through a million-dollar microphone when they’re playing live. Most bands, especially ones that only have a prom gig under their belt, don’t sound studio-crisp while performing live. I also didn’t buy the chemistry of the band–floppy haired-frontman (played by singer/songwriter, Teddy Geiger), good-looking outcast chick (Emma Stone), chubby/awkward optimist (Josh Gad), and of course, ex-drummer from 80’s hair-rock band. It felt just a little more authentic than a band on the Disney roster.
The logistics of the final scene also frustrated the music lover in me. After Vesuvius is caught lip-synching (speaking of plots from the 80’s) they walk off the stage in shame. The packed arena then screams for the return of A.D.D. who take the stage moments later, unexplainably, playing on their own equipment. Not even the Rolling Stones stage crew could work this kind of magic. (C’mon, just have the band play on Vesuvius’ set-up and call it a night).
Another indicator that The Rocker–more in the league of Airheads than Spinal Tap–wasn’t going to be The Wrestler of music movies was when Rainn Wilson’s character would longingly stare at Cleveland’s Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. (He did this several times throughout the film.) Any rocker worth his weight in Zildijan cymbals wouldn’t dare dream about getting their plaque in a museum until they’ve seen a million faces–and rocked them all.