WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY directed by Jake Kasdan, written by Judd Apatow and Kasdan, with John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Tim Meadows and Kristen Wiig. A Sony release. 96 minutes. Rating: NNNN
Call 2007 the year of the bacchanalian Leading Man, at least when it came to comedy: Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, Jonah Hill in Superbad, and now a sublimely silly John C. Reilly in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
Cut from the same toga worn by the great John Belushi and tugged on most recently by Will Ferrell, Rogen, Hill and Reilly excel at playing loutish clods incapable of a world view beyond their noticeable bellies. Self-indulgent self-satisfaction – minus anything resembling smugness – is both the zenith and nadir characteristic that defines these slacker heroes.
Granted, Reilly’s Dewey Cox is a slob of a slightly higher order, given that he’s a creature of parody. Among his peers – the headbangers of Spinal Tap or Val Kilmer surf-singer in Top Secret!, say – Dewey Cox is a spit-curled Cro-Magnon monument to the perils of music superstardom. And Reilly makes walking hard look awfully effortless. Walk Hard takes the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line as its blueprint, from the basic plot (dead brother, daddy issues and drug dependency) all the way down to certain lines of dialogue. It’s a fine line that’s being, ahem, walked, but the film is about more than a musical genius and his monkey – er, chimp.
Walk Hard is a surprisingly smart spoof that stands head and shoulders above cookie-cutter cut-ups like Epic Movie, Scary Movie and Not Another Retarded I Can’t Believe I Paid 12 Bucks To See This Crap Movie. The soundtrack, written by Van Dyke Parks, Mike Viola and Marshall Crenshaw (to be released on CD as A Box Of Cox) and covering every musical style from Cash and Roy Orbison to Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys, alone is worth the price of admission. Ditto an LSD trip with the Beatles that’s like something right out of Yellow Submarine.
Reilly, director Jake Kasdan and producer/co-writer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Superbad) contributed the Oscar-worthy title song as well as (Mama) You Got To Love Your Negro Man, while the double-entendre-laden Dewey Cox duet with Jenna Fischer’s June Carter carbon copy, Let’s Duet, is easily the film’s funniest tune, with lines like “In my dreams you’re blowin’ me” – deep pause – “some kisses.”
And, yes, Reilly can really sing, especially during the Orbison era, and his take on Dylan wouldn’t have been out of place in Todd Haynes’s deconstructive biopic I’m Not There. But parody is risky, given how quickly pop culture shifts. What is timely during production could be sadly out of date when the movie reaches the multiplex.
At first, Walk Hard feels like a cameo-filled Saturday Night Live spoof of a VH1 Behind The Music special. The jokes come fast and furious and are mostly funny, but after the umpteenth pun on Dewey’s last name (and a surreal appearance by just such a member that you will not see coming), you wonder how they can possibly sustain an entire film.
Yet thanks to Reilly, who throws himself into the role with such unblinking enthusiasm, and solid pacing driven by the soundtrack, it soon evolves into something much cleverer than the typical Mel Brooks/Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker/Wayans Brothers comedy.
Filled with goofy heart and a sideways respect for its target – the ego and excess of music stardom – Walk Hard gives as much insight into what makes Dewey Cox tick as Walk The Line gives into Cash.
Imagine the voice-over guy saying, “The Academy Award-nominated Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” Could happen. Especially in the original song category.