It's time for music legend Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) to take to the stage, but the floor manager for this television special and awards show is having trouble finding the star. He eventually discovers him in a darkened corridor, but as Dewey's faithful drummer Sam (Tim Meadows) tells him, he's not ready until he has contemplated the entirety of his life first. And so we travel back to the musician's childhood in the 1940s, where he lived in rural poverty with his brother, a prodigy who played piano to concert level. But the little boy would not live long, thanks to Dewey's responsibility for an accident...
Walk Hard was part of the Judd Apatow comedy behemoth, but proved that not everything he touched turned to box office gold as while it has a decent enough cult reputation today, it was by no means the major hit that, say, Knocked Up or Superbad were. Perhaps the world was not ready for a comedy blockbuster with Reilly in the lead role, in spite of his face being one of the most recognisable in movies of this era, but if you were willing to give him a chance, you'd see his humour chops were well and truly won by his performance here. The wide ranging musical targets needed someone to hold this at the centre, and he pulled off Cox with skill and even sympathy.
Pulled off Cox. Yes, there were no shortage of blue jokes in this, and little wonder when the main character's name lent itself to so many double entendres. Walk Hard was of course a spoof of all those oh so earnest biopics that placed a star in the role of another star and got them to do an impression of them, as if the talent of the original would offer them the same kudos and credit amongst those who would say, wow, they're just like the real thing, possibly hoping that audiences would further say, wow, they're even better than the real thing. The assumed arrogance of this concept apparently riled both Apatow and his co-writer and director Jake Kasdan, hence the scathing takedown here.
Not that this was ninety minutes of snidey gags from those envious of the success of those efforts like Walk the Line and Ray, as there was a pleasing sense of the ridiculous running through the movie that generated a wealth of big laughs. Partly this was down to the targets not only being the fictionalisation of rock and pop stars' lives, but also the stars themselves, as there were constant references to various celebrities and their perceived absurdity of behaviour once they hit big with their work. So Dewey was plonked down in the situations that were familiar from the biopics, but also real life ones: take the passage where they spoof Brian Wilson making Smile, which sees about three hundred artists in the recording studio and Dewey having a breakdown and a fall out.
The love lives of these people are the source of endless fascination, so Dewey marries his sweetheart Edith (Kristen Wiig) at age fourteen after his unloving father ("Wrong kid died!") kicks him out, and soon they have about twenty kids or something, but the lure of life on the road and all those temptations are too much and he is neglecting his family (and his pet chimp). That's when he meets singing starlet Darlene (Jenna Fischer), the true love of his life, although he does marry her when he's still married to Edith. Then there's the drugs, a subject of even more fascination for many, as every so often Sam will introduce him to a new narcotic - although it's The Beatles who introduce him to LSD. There are so many bullseyes hit here by the humour that you're likely to not catch them all in a single viewing, and if it's a one note satire, then enough of it was funny to make it an artistic success, including the spot-on song parodies. Such a fine line between stupid and clever, as a wise man once said. Music by Michael Andrews.