Heavy metal mess
Before I start kicking the crap out of Rock Star, a film about a small-town club rocker who makes it to the big arena, I must admit: I hate hair bands.
Not all the hair bands, mind you (Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses were cool!), just well over 90 percent of those sad-assed glam bands. My birth plunked me dead in the middle of the hair-rock heyday when I passed through high school and college. I considered Poison, Whitesnake, Stryper and Motley Crüe to be signs of the oncoming fiery apocalypse that would result in all of our earthly belongings being melted by blinding heat rays and all of our hair being pulled out strand by strand. I figured if I listened to R.E.M. instead, God might cut me some slack.
I make this revelation knowing that a love for this particular type of music might make you like Rock Star, because the film is sort of an ode to the atrocity. Had it been funnier and maintained the spirit of its goofy first half, this might have worked.
The film starts promisingly, with Mark Wahlberg as Chris Cole fronting a heavy metal tribute band that copies the look and tunes of Steel Dragon. The day after being booted from his band for being a psycho perfectionist, he gets a call from Steel Dragon (they’ve seen a tape of him copping their act), nails an audition and finds himself on an arena tour as the lead singer of his favorite band. (The film is based on the true story of a fan taking lead singer duties in Judas Priest.)
Up until Chris makes the band, the movie is funny in the depiction of his home life and a feud with another tribute band. I liked the scene where Chris’ older brother, a cop, rousts him out of bed and proceeds to get his ass kicked by his civilian bro, requiring his mother’s rescue. It’s during these moments when Rock Star appears to be a comedy, and even a satire.
The film falters when it insists on taking itself too seriously. We get the standard corruption-of-innocence story, as Chris winds up in orgies and taking drugs within his first week on the road. None of this is handled well, covering all the wild rocker lifestyle clichés without any depth. Chris’ decline into selfish dickweed rocker (who inexplicably purchases what appears to be the Batmobile at some point) is too fast and far too typical.
We also get your standard romance schmaltz as Chris drifts away from his manager girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston). The film culminates with Chris leaving the band, hopping from arena hair rock to grunge, sporting flannel and an Eddie Vedder haircut and serenading Aniston. It’s a groaner.
The staging of the concerts is respectable, and this is where you glam-rock loving, Kiss-without-their-makeup fans might have some fun. Director Stephen Herek has cast actual rockers in Steel Dragon (drummer Jason Bonham, guitarist Zakk Wylde), and the concerts are impressive, if this style of music fails to make you gag. Wahlberg does some of his own singing, although I’m sure he had a stand-in for some of the super-high testicle clangers.
What’s sad about a film like Rock Star is that studio heads will take note when it tanks, and other real rock movies, like the long-delayed Keith Moon biography and a Rolling Stones film, won’t get the green light. Dammit!
While Wahlberg is typically likable in the film, Rock Star fails to maintain the funny tone of its beginning and insists on being a cut-rate rags-to-riches story. The mundane romance and sentimental treatment of a rather embarrassing period in rock history is miscalculation at its worst.