At one time or another, almost everyone fantasizes about being in a rock band. Whether you're 14 or 45, the heady allure of music, jam sessions, hysterical fans, giddy groupies, a decadent lifestyle, and truckloads of cash is so enticing, it's a wonder more of us don't just shuck our boring lives and go for it. It's tempting, to be sure, but most mature adults realize the pure folly of abandoning families, mortgages, and other pressing responsibilities for such a far-out, long-shot dream. But what if we weren't so mature and had no responsibilities? And what if we had come oh-so-close to living that dream years ago only to have it cruelly snatched away, and now endure a bitter, lonely, depressed, purposeless existence? What then? Well, then, we'd be 'The Rocker.'
Loosely based on the experience of Pete Best, the drummer The Beatles dumped on the eve of their breakout success, 'The Rocker' borrows bits and pieces from other movies as it tells the story of Robert "Fish" Fishman (Rainn Wilson), who, back in 1986, lost his drumming gig with an up-and-coming metal band called Vesuvius after a music executive threatened to cancel its impending record deal if his nephew didn't take Fish's slot. Vesuvius went on to multi-platinum fame, and a devastated Fish vowed never to play percussion again. He's spent the past 20 years as a customer service rep for a – wink, wink – metal racking company, but when a colleague pops Vesuvius' new CD into his computer, two decades of pent-up anger boil over and Fish goes berserk. In short order, he loses his job, girlfriend, and mojo, and moves into the attic of his sister's home.
Life begins to brighten, though, when his nephew's garage band, A.D.D., loses its drummer on the eve of a big prom gig. The band convinces a reluctant Fish to sit in, and within minutes his passion comes flooding back. Fish is once again hooked, and though his immature, obnoxious, and flamboyant behavior often repulses his teenage bandmates, his contagious enthusiasm and reach-for-the-stars mentality inspires them to push ahead. Some dubious notoriety on YouTube doesn't hurt, and soon record companies come calling. A.D.D. is on its way, but Fish's adolescent antics and advanced age just might kill the band's burgeoning buzz.
A shameless rip-off of 'School of Rock,' with slightly older musicians and not as much heart, 'The Rocker' plays like a Will Ferrell film without Will Ferrell. Wilson relishes showing off his jiggly physique and grossing us out with jokes and gags about bodily functions (vomit and sweat are two favorites), yet he doesn't exude the teddy-bear warmth that redeems Ferrell and Jack Black, who at times Wilson eerily resembles. He does score some points with funny, far-out bits, but overall it's a one-note portrayal. The wild-eyed mugging becomes tiresome over time, and though Fish takes some baby steps toward maturity by the story's end – thanks to an underdeveloped relationship with Kim (Christina Applegate), the lead singer's mom – it's not enough to break the character out of the cartoon mold.
The screenplay also evokes 'That Thing You Do' as it charts the band's overnight success and meteoric ascension, but can't match that movie's charm quotient. Seeing this amateur garage band progress from playing dumpy dives to packing stadiums in the span of a few short months is just too unbelievable, even for a film of this sort. After a rocky start, director Peter Cattaneo ('The Full Monty') begins to win us over during the picture's first half, but loses control down the stretch. The ending is just a jumbled mess, and feels like writers Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky simply ran out of steam.
I actually enjoyed 'The Rocker' far more than I thought I would. Teddy Geiger, Emma Stone, and Josh Gad are quite appealing as Fish's bandmates, and peppy supporting work from Applegate, Fred Armisen ,and Jason Sudeikis of 'Saturday Night Live,' Will Arnett, Jane Lynch, Bradley Cooper, Howard Hesseman, and Jane Krakowski perk up the film. Though I did laugh out loud a few times, 'The Rocker' is a middling effort at best, too full of slapstick for my taste, but as a mindless weeknight rental, it fills the bill.
'The Rocker' was shot in HD, so the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer looks sharp, clean, and free of digital doctoring. Source material is spotless. A smattering of noise crops up in low-light sequences, but the perfectly pitched contrast lends the film a seamless continuity throughout interior, exterior, bright, and dark scenes. The movie boasts plenty of busy backdrops and complex costume patterns, but the transfer handles them all with aplomb, as well as a difficult multi-screen montage sequence. I noticed a slight bit of instability on a few quick pans, but on the whole, the image is rock solid from start to finish.
Blacks are exceptionally inky and rich, the well-modulated whites never bloom, and the bold and vibrant colors look natural not gaudy. Fleshtones are stable and true to life, and fine details stay largely in focus, even at great distances. 'The Rocker' may not have been a box office champ, but its transfer scores some big points.
A movie called 'The Rocker' demands a kick-ass soundtrack, and though the DTS Master HD Audio isn't as active and earthshaking as some tracks I've heard, it meets the film's needs quite well. Until the final act, it's an unobtrusive track, but the lack of flash doesn't mean the audio is dull; on the contrary, the bright, clean sound serves up a nice immersive feel.
Aside from the live performance scenes, 'The Rocker' is sonically pretty standard, so the surrounds only see sporadic action. The front mix is distinct and well balanced, with pleasing dynamic range; conversations are clear and easily comprehendible at all times, and effects are crisp. Though the music sequences are all solid, the final concert fires on all cylinders, as hefty bass kicks in with every drum beat and burst of pyrotechnics. The crowd noise also wraps around us so we really feel like we're in the thick of it, and the guitar and vocals possess both power and shading.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks are also included in English, French, and Spanish.
Why is it that so often quality films only contain a few, if any, extras, and mediocre ones pack in, like, a bajillion supplements, many of which serve little or no purpose? Of course, 'The Rocker' falls into the latter category with a plethora of pointless time-wasters. Diehard fans will certainly sing the praises of this "Born to Rock" Edition, but few others will find anything to crow about. Resolution is 480i.
'The Rocker' could be dubbed 'School of Rock: All Growed Up,' but despite its blatant similarities to other films, this tale of a stunted 40-year-old adolescent who (almost) comes of age produces some laughs on its own and painlessly passes the time. Above average video and audio boost its score, but the smorgasbord of silly supplements will give you a junk food hangover. A decent rental for a rainy afternoon, especially for teens.