Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, the final 2007 notch on Judd Apatow's ever-growing comedy belt, isn't a great movie — but it would have been a fantastic Saturday Night Live sketch. The movie, which Apatow produced and co-wrote with Jake Kasdan, can be hilarious, but it's just as often tiresome, dipping into the same well of jokes over and over again.
Even so, there are enough hilarious moments in the movie's second half that I came out of the theater feeling surprisingly good about Walk Hard. It's not the next Knocked Up, but it's a pretty good diversion, if you can get through the draggy first 45 minutes and have a high tolerance for the type of humor usually favored in high school cafeterias.
John C. Reilly stars as Dewey Cox, the archetypal rock star with a dark secret in his past — namely that he accidentally killed his brother by whacking him in half with a machete. To cope, Cox learns to play the blues, then progresses to rock 'n' roll, ultimately leaving his family for a career in showbiz. When he fills in for injured Bobby Shad (Craig Robinson of The Office) at an erotic nightclub, Cox ends up on the fast track to musical fame (and ruin), with all the drugs, women, stints in rehab, jail sentences, and folk-musician rebirths that implies. The movie sticks close to the formula it's spoofing, and that's part of why the first half feels so tired. For the rest of my take, just
If you've ever seen a musician biopic — heck, if you've ever seen a movie — you know that Cox is going to run off with his girlfriend (Kristen Wiig), give her lots of babies, and be lured toward infidelity by a Christian woman with tarty tastes in fashion (Jenna Fischer). He's going to try drugs despite his protestations that he won't, and he's going to have a confrontation with his father. What little you don't already know, the movie will drive into your head in no time: Cox being tempted into drugs by his bandmates is funny the first time, chuckle-worthy the second time, and just dumb by the third. Same goes for having Cox stare off into space every time someone utters a quasi-profound line that could become his next song.
But then, around the time the story slides into the 1960s, something changes, and the movie comes out much funnier for it. In quick succession, there's a priceless Bob Dylan parody, a scene with Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long, and Jason Schwartzman as the Beatles, and an acid trip straight out of Yellow Submarine. There were good moments after that — especially the YouTube mashup of "Walk Hard" by a rapper named Lil' Nutzzak, and yes, you know exactly where that's going — and a biopic-worthy conclusion, but that '60s segment contained all the images, scenes, and jokes that stuck in my mind days later.
In terms of spotting comedy stars, the movie is pure pleasure; everyone from Ed Helms to Jonah Hill to Jack McBrayer to Harold Ramis has a moment. But the movie really belongs to Reilly, a consistent supporting actor finally getting a featured role. Playing Dewey Cox requires hitting a very specific tone, saying goofy lines earnestly but not so earnestly they're no longer funny, and on that score, Reilly is nearly flawless. I still wish Walk Hard had been shorter by half (or maybe three-quarters), but if it means that Reilly gets some recognition for what he can do in a leading role, I won't protest too much.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures