- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Fox Atomic
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he Beatles may be the biggest rock band in music history, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have their share of backstage troubles along the way. The story of Pete Best (the band’s original drummer that was replaced by Ringo Starr on the cusp of their success) probably isn’t the most popular of the bunch, but recently, it has become the topic of great debate amongst music fans everywhere. Whether or not Best was actually forced out remains unclear, but the former Beatle clearly has no hard feelings, or he wouldn’t be making a cameo in a movie inspired by his experience. “The Rocker” doesn’t even pretend to be the unofficial biopic of Best’s life, but thanks to its willingness to fully embrace the subject matter, the film is difficult to not like – even if it isn't very good.
The year is 1986, and Cleveland-based metal band Vesuvius is on the brink of making it big. When a record label agrees to sign the band as long as drummer Robert “Fish” Fishman (Rainn Wilson) is replaced by the label president’s nephew, Fish’s fellow bandmates (Will Arnett, Bradley Cooper and Fred Armisen) unceremoniously boot him to the curb. 20 years later, Fish is working a dead-end desk job while Vesuvius continues to tear up the charts, but when his nephew's (Josh Gad) emo band loses their drummer only days before their big show at the high school prom, Fish agrees to fill in. The gig doesn’t go quite as planned, but after footage of Fish's naked drumming habits becomes an internet sensation, the band is signed and sent on tour, giving Fish a second chance at rock stardom.
“The Rocker” isn’t exactly the romantic comedy that many expected it to be (after all, the previews strongly hinted at Rainn Wilson and Christina Applegate hooking up at some point in the story), but that doesn’t mean it’s completely void of every other movie cliché. Director Peter Cattaneo ("The Full Monty") knows he isn’t making anything revolutionary, and instead of trying to hide the more predictable moments by making them seem fresh, he embraces them as a necessary means of telling the story. It really helps to draw the attention away from the similarities it shares with every other movie like it, and instead, allows for the cast to just have fun.
Though the movie was probably written with Will Ferrell in mind, Rainn Wilson is a capable substitute. The “Office” star has proven before that he doesn’t mind making a fool of himself, and that’s exactly what’s required of the role. Unfortunately, while Wilson’s antics are key to lightening the mood in the first half of the film, the character’s lack of depth struggles to offer anything new in the second half. Credit good casting, then, for delivering a talented group of co-stars to take over the reigns. As the band’s other three members, Josh Gad, Emma Stone, and budding pop sensation Teddy Geiger do just enough to stand out. Geiger, in particular, is surprisingly good as the leader of the band, and the fact that he can actually sing makes all the difference. The music is also pretty catchy (but never overplayed), which lends to the realism of the story, since there’s no way a record label would ever sign a band simply because their drummer likes to free-ball it during practice.
The film may have its moments – including a riotous, scene-stealing performance by Jason Sudeikis as the band’s manager – but it’s not going to launch Wilson into leading man status anytime soon. The actor just can’t carry a movie on his own, and he’s far better suited to the kind of quirky supporting roles that landed him on the map in the first place. Additionally, the laughs don’t come quite as often as you’d like, and though Cattaneo’s cast is loaded with comic talent (including Jane Lynch, Jeff Garlin and Demetri Martin as a Spike Jonze-like music video director), they’re never given a chance to shine. “The Rocker” is a mostly harmless comedy that never sinks too low to get a laugh, but it might have been funnier if it had.
Born to Rock Edition Blu-Ray Review:
“The Rocker” may have been a colossal disappointment at the box office, but Fox has still crammed as many extras as possible onto the single-disc release. Granted, many of them are as shallow and half-baked as they come, but there are still a few worth checking out including a nice collection of deleted scenes (featuring an extended Pete Best cameo and an unused ending), a 10-minute gag reel, alternate takes with the cast, and a hilarious behind-the-scenes look at an interview satellite feed gone horribly, horribly wrong. The two audio commentaries (one with director Peter Cattaneo and star Rainn Wilson, and another with actors Josh Gad, Teddy Geiger, Emma Stone and Jason Sudeikis) aren’t great, but they’re still fun to listen to, while the included music featurette (simply titled “The Music”) offers an all-too-brief look at the making of the film’s mostly original soundtrack.