'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.
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.'
'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.
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.)
'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.