Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
- Street Date:
- April 8th, 2008
- Reviewed by:
- Peter Bracke
- Review Date: 1
- April 6th, 2008
- Movie Release Year:
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
- 125 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
'Walk Hard' is half ribald spoof, half subtle mockumentary in the Christopher Guest mold. By trying to straddle two stools, it is never side-splittingly hilarious nor incisive enough to truly skewer its subject beyond the surface. That doesn't mean 'Walk Hard' doesn't frequently tickle the funny bone, it just never fully gels into the comedy classic that it might have been. On top of that, it's a satire that doesn't know when to leave well enough alone, often stretching out its jokes (particularly in the appropriately-titled "Unbearably Long Director's Cut" version included on this Blu-ray) past the breaking point. Like its star subject, Dewey Cox, it never met an excess it didn't embrace.
'Walk Hard' tells the tale of one Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly), a musical wunderkind whose career spans several decades and all the success that entails. Whether being hailed as the "new Elvis" in the '50s, making a failed stab at psychedelia in the '60s, or selling out for a disco-fueled '70s comeback, Dewey manages to embody every last cliche of rock 'n' roll. Sex, drugs, a clutch of No. 1 hits, disgruntled ex-bandmates, multiple failed marriages and, of course, a trail of bad polyester suits, all leading up to the eventual '80s comeback (with even a little bit more sex and drugs thrown in for good measure), Cox's longevity is only as remarkable as his decadence.
'Walk Hard' was conceived by current "It" filmmaker Judd Apatow (who you could argue is his own Dewey Cox of cinematic comedy), and he attempts to balance the more ribald tone of such mock "biopic" hits like 'Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby' and 'Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy' with the slyer satire of 'This is Spinal Tap.' When the approach works, it works exceptionally well. Take the early scene where Dewey premieres his first song to an auditorium of local teens and adults. As the "obscene" music and lyrics (consisting of the innocuous main line, "I want to take your hand...") play out, the crowd goes nuts, gyrating their hips in a lustful frenzy, while priests and parents clutch their chests. Apatow here achieves multiple levels of parody, skewering American musical history, the shifting morals of culture, and the inanity of the Dewey character himself -- it's a great scene, and it gets us excited for more dead-on parody to come.
Much of the rest of 'Walk Hard' hits the same inspired notes. Dewey's fascination with Beatles-esque experimentation in the '60s is also hilarious, particularly an extended "in the studio" montage that perfectly mocks the raging egoism that often grips pompous rock stars whose success has gone to their heads. Dewey's '70s downfall and eventual 'rebirth" as a "Donny & Marie Show"-style TV personality also had me laughing in recognition of the perfectly realized clothes, production numbers, and generally inanity of the period.
Unfortunately, 'Walk Hard' stumbles as it detours into odd little comedic vignettes and displays an unpleasant tinge of misogyny. There are numerous cameos by stars big and small (including everyone from Cheryl Tiegs to Patrick Duffy to Paul Rudd, impersonating a Beatle), which are often funny. But the gags too often go on and on, and the pace meanders. Even more disappointing, all of the female characters in the film are secondary, or worse, one-dimensional shrews. It's not surprising that Apatow has come under fire recently by some critics who have noticed a similar streak of estrogen-panic in his work, and there are enough gratuitous boob shots of naked groupies in 'Walk Hard' that you have to wonder whose actually better at living out his adolescent male fantasies -- Dewey Cox, or Apatow.
Holding the entire movie together is Reilly. An Oscar-nominee for 'Chicago,' here he again proves what a capable singing voice he really has -- one of genuine depth and range. (Reilly also contributed to some of the film's ace original songs, which work as good tunes and great parody.) Better still is the actor's terrific sense of comedic timing, as he often saves scenes from over-mugging co-stars by downplaying the ridiculousness of the situations enough that we actually believe wholeheartedly in the silly universe the Cox character occupies. It's a tough feat, but Reilly really pulls it off.
All in all, I enjoyed 'Walk Hard.' It's funny, has a great subject to skewer (with the popularity of such recent serious musical biopics as 'Ray' and 'Dreamgirls,' its timing is perfect) and the casting of Reilly as Dewey is perfect. Oddly, however, I ended up enjoying the Theatrical version more (which is also included on this Blu-ray via seamless branching) -- it runs almost a full 30 minutes shorter and is thus more economical in its storytelling. Neither the released cut nor the "Unbearably Long" version is the best example of this type of comedy (for that, go rent a Christopher Guest flick), but 'Walk Hard' is amusing enough that it's well worth a rental.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Sony presents 'Walk Hard' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video, framed at 2.40:1. Quite frankly, the transfer has its share of problems, and I wasn't particularly satisfied with the results. (Note that both the Theatrical and Unbearably Long versions of 'Walk Hard' are available on the first disc via seamless branching. However, the disc starts up with the theatrical cut, and the only way to access the alternate version is to go to the Special Features menu and restart the movie.)
'Walk Hard' is not a particularly stylized movie, nor does it boast much in the way of cutting-edge special effects. Unfortunately, any hint of naturalism is tossed out the window with colors that are largely oversaturated. Reds are particularly muddy and overbearing, which leads to poor fleshtones. Black levels are also odd, looking too bright -- a decision that may improve the illusion of shadow delineation but gives the transfer a washed-out look. Contrast veers towards the hot side as well, which further mucks up any hope for realism.
There are a couple of positives. The source is spotless (as one would expect for a new release). A few of the more natural-looking scenes approach the level of detail of the best Blu-ray titles. There are also no obvious compression artifacts, and considering the overdone colors and poor blacks/contrast, I expected more noise and pixelation. However, these are minor positives for a presentation that generally underwhelms. I was pretty disappointed in 'Walk Hard.'
The Audio: Rating the Sound
'Walk Hard' enjoys Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround tracks (48kHz/24-bit) in both English and French. The disc's audio is much better than the video, and it easily handles the music-minded demands of the film's enjoyable soundtrack.
A movie like 'Walk Hard' probably didn't need state-of-the-art sound design, but this is one very well-recorded mix. There's much better heft and presence to effects than I had expected. Clarity of the entire frequency spectrum is excellent as well, and deep bass is air-tight. Of course, there is a fair amount of music in 'Walk Hard,' and it's also reproduced impeccably. These aren't muddy, jokey vintage pop tunes, but songs that sound like they were recorded just yesterday in the slickest modern studio. Dialogue is also pitch perfect, and I experienced no volume balance problems. Perhaps 'Walk Hard' is not a true demo disc, simply because the material doesn't really throw itself at the listener, but for what it does, it's right on the money.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Sony has pulled out all the stops for 'Walk Hard' -- this is an absolutely loaded two-disc set. I can't imagine any fan could ask for more, and even better, Sony has bumped up just about all of this material to full 1080 video. (Optional English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, and Thai subtitles are also provided on all of the featurettes and audio commentary.)
- Audio Commentary - A lively group chat with Judd Apatow, writer/director Jake Kasdan, star John C. Reilly, and producer Lew Morton. The chatter is almost non-stop and frequently self-deprecating. The track is also helpful in pointing out some of the satire that is easy to miss if you are not familiar with music history of the '50s and '60s, as well as the numerous star cameos (some obvious, some not). There isn't a great deal of production info on this track aside from on-set frivolity, and at 120 minutes, I found this a slow slog by the end. Worth a listen with the fast-forward button handy, though.
- Mockumentary: "The Real Dewey Cox" (HD, 17 minutes) - Often funnier than the flick, this is my favorite extra of the entire set. A variety of music stars (including John Mayer, Ghostface Killah, Sheryl Crow, and Jewel) show up to sing the praises of the "real" Dewey Cox, and how Reilly found it "an honor" to play him. As a long-time fan of VH-1's "Behind the Music" and other music biography series, I found this skewering of rock star self-importance to be right on the money.
- Mockumentary: "The Last Word with John Hodgman" (HD, 19 minutes) - Another winner of a spoof, this is a look back at the life story of Dewey Cox, as told by Hodgman for a fake show about folks nearing death. The satire is quite agile, with recollections from Cox's family, friends and collaborators (all actors in-character). Not always side-splitting, but still impressive, as much of this material was clearly improvised.
- Featurette: "The Making of 'Walk Hard'" (HD, 15 minutes) - Apatow, Kasdan, and Reilly provide on-set interviews, along with most of the other major cast and crew. It's a straightforward and largely straight-faced mini-doc, giving us a decent overview of the conception and production of the film. However, there is too much of an EPK-like feel, as well as an abundance of film clips/story recap.
- Featurette: "The Music of 'Walk Hard'" (HD, 17 minutes) - Along with the above making-of, this is the only other serious extra here. It's interesting to see how the filmmakers attempted to blend musical satire with songs that would sound credible to the time period, and which utilized the talents of such great singer-songwriters as Marshall Crenshaw. Reilly also showcases his vocal chops, as he sang all of his own songs (versus some of his co-stars like Jenna Fischer, who were dubbed).
- Featurette: "Tyler Nilson: A Coxumentary" (HD, 6 minutes) - Rather cute, this one is devoted to the young actor who answered a casting call to perform completely in the buff. Now, that's dedication.
- Featurette: "Bull On the Loose" (HD, 4 minutes) - A short vignette on the scene where a bull chases a young Dewey Cox. Interviews with three production personnel describe how the stunt was executed safely.
- Full Song Performances/"The Christmas Song" (HD, 44 minutes) - As the music sequences in 'Walk Hard' were my favorite bits in the film, these extended versions of 16 tunes were highlights of the extras for me. The quality is high as well, as each is presented in HD and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. The songs include: "Walk Hard," "Billy Don't be a Hero," "Dear Mr. President," "Gamblin' Man," "Guilty as Charged," "(I Hate You) Big Daddy," "A Life Without You," "Let's Duet," "The Mulatto Song," "Royal Jelly," "Hey Mr. Old Guy," "Farmer Glickstein," "(You Make Me So) Hard" and "Starman," as well as "My Girl" by The Temptations and an alternate version of "Walk Hard" by the All-Star Band).
Note that here is one last tune, "The Christmas Song," that's given its own menu heading. It's only presented as an audio-only clip playing over a blank screen, however -- perhaps that's part of the joke?
- Song Demos (SD, 39 minutes) - This collection of 13 demo cuts features all of the original musical artists singing the tunes they wrote for the film, among them Marshall Crenshaw, Mike Viola, Dan Bern, Antonio Ortiz, Charlie Wadhams, and Reilly. Music fans should enjoy hearing these rough versions, and the songs included are: "Walk Hard" and "Let’s Duet," (two versions each), "Take My Hand," "Guilty As Charged," "There's a Change Happening," "Beautiful Ride," "Farmer Glickstein," "Your Eyes," "A Life Without You," "Guilty As Charged" and the "American Pie"-esque "(Have You Heard the News) Dewey Cox Died."
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 20 minutes) - There are ten scenes in all here, and with the disc already boasting the 120-minute extended cut of the film, these verge on overkill. There's more of the Beatles routine seen in the finished film, and also of note is a brief cameo by Eddie Vedder.
- Line-O-Rama (SD, 6 minutes) - Essentially a gag reel, this again proves that the makers of 'Walk Hard' don't know the meaning of the word "concise." These missed lines and other gaffes are initially amusing, but this goes on so long it wears out its welcome.
- Cox Sausage Commercial (SD, 6 minutes) - A sorta-funny fake advert, complete with it's own montage of "outtakes" performed by the actors in-character.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Take a glance at the packaging for 'Walk Hard,' and you would be forgiven for thinking there are no Blu-ray exclusives in the set. In fact, 'Walk Hard' is making high-def history as Sony's first BD-Live-enabled title. Accessing the content is easy (on a PlayStation 3 with the latest firmware upgrade, that is) -- simply select the BD-Live option from the Special Features menu, and the content will begin loading. Download times are slow, however -- it took about 3 minutes or so the first time, and less than a minute on future visits. Not terrible, but hardly speedy. As for the content itself, it's not that extensive, but this is clearly a test-case title -- BD-Live works (albeit slowly), which is certainly the biggest news.
- Featurettes (SD, 9 minutes) - The main goodies are a trio of vignettes starring the character of Derek Stone (Bill Hader), as a "Coxologist" who analyzes three famous Dewey Cox songs ("Royal Jelly," "Mulatto" and "Midget Man"). Each segment runs about 3 minutes, and surprisingly, are presented in standard-definition only. It's certainly not a boon to BD-Live to have non-HD content, but likely the reason is the long download times. In addition to the activation delay just to get the BD-Live feature up and running, each "Coxologist" segment required about another 4 minutes per clip to download -- quite an aggravation, as Sony has not provided a streaming option (i.e., you have to download the whole thing in one shebang). Clearly, BD-Live is just getting started.
- Theatrical Trailers (SD) - Sony has also provided access to nine (at presstime) trailers and previews for other movie titles, including such upcoming Blu-ray releases as 'Untraceable,' 'Gattaca' and the upcoming 'Men in Black.' Unfortunately, there is again no streaming option -- be prepared to wait several minutes for the download to finish, although at least here there are SD and HD viewing options. Quite frankly, I could watch all of the trailers online a heck of a lot quicker. If BD-LIve is really going to take off, Sony and the other studios need to get this content to us quicker.
'Walk Hard' is an amusing satire that avoids the cheesiness of most mock biopics, but at the same time it's not laugh-out-loud hilarious. This Blu-ray is also a mixed bag, with video that's lacking, but much better audio, and a ton of extras. On top of that, it's Sony's first stab at a BD-Live title-- however tentative. Ultimately, it's hard to recommend this disc for purchase given the lacking transfer, but it's definitely worth a rental.
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc/BD-25 Single-Layer Disc
- Two-Disc Set
- BD-Live Enabled
- Region A
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit)
- French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit)
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
- Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
- English SDH
- English Subtitles
- French Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- Portuguese Subtitles
- Korean Subtitles
- Chinese Subtitles
- Thai Subtitles
- Audio Commentary
- Deleted Scenes
- Bonus Songs
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