Given the number of high-profile musical biopics in recent years (Ray, Walk the Line), it’s inevitable that someone would get around to making a spoof of the genre. Unfortunately, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story isn’t a spoof so much as a scene-for-scene recreation. With jokes. And occasional laughs.
Taking early inspiration from Ray and then running straight through the script of Walk the Line, Walk Hard casts John C. Reilly (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Chicago, Boogie Nights) as Dewey Cox, a poor young Southern lad growing up in the shadow of his musically gifted older brother. When a freak machete accident leaves the elder Cox dead (“I’m cut in half real bad, Dewey!”), Dewey learns the true meaning of the blues and vows to be “twice as good” for the sake of his late, bisected brother. From there, it’s a rapid-fire trip through all the assorted music movie clichés (marriages, kids, divorces, drugs, rehab, comeback albums).
Reilly is a funny dude, of course, and the film gets considerable mileage out of using the fortysomething star to play Dewey throughout his life’s journey. “I’m only 14 years old!” he keeps declaring in the early sections, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. On his trip through pop music fame, Dewey runs into assorted famous faces, Forrest Gump-style. It’s sometimes fun to figure out who’s been drafted to play whom (yeah, that’s Jack White as a karate-chopping Elvis), but few of the cameos actually lead to any memorable jokes. At least Jason Schwartzman, Paul Rudd, Justin Long and Jack Black seem to be having fun ripping on The Beatles. (Black has to keep declaring “I’m Paul McCartney,” mirroring Reilly’s earlier, obviously false statements.)
Walk Hard is co-written by red-hot funnyman Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Superbad). But don’t let that fool you. This silly parody is clearly one of Apatow’s lesser efforts, which may explain why he turned it over to co-writer and infrequent director Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect, Orange County) instead of helming it himself. The film milks what it can from its plentiful supply of dirty jokes (starting with the film’s title). Tim Meadows (a comedian I wish we saw more of) nails some solid punch lines off a running drug reference. Jenna Fischer (fresh from “The Office”) is mighty cute as Dewey’s lifelong love, but isn’t given many jokes to handle. In the end, the laugh quotient is probably more hit than miss, but few of the jokes are fresh enough or outrageous enough to serve as Internet chat room signatures (a sure sign of endurant comedy).
Oddly enough, the weakest link here has got to be the many musical numbers. Nearly all of them are played straight and serious (with the exception of the fine, double entendre-filled “Let’s Duet”). Reilly is an OK singer, but he’s not talented enough to impress as one of the biggest superstars of rock ’n’ roll. A little more humor in the lyrical department might have eased that hurdle. Making a musical comedy without funny songs seems like a very strange decision and a damn poor way to move soundtrack albums. Walk Hard ain’t no Spinal Tap, that’s for sure. Then again, what is?