If you’ve had more than your fill by now of those cookie cutter, tearjerker music biopics that follow the inevitable trajectory from rough roots to fame, a fall from grace and final redemption, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story may just have the cure. And it’s about time. This satirical tongue-in-check musical, spoofs movies like the Johnny Cash weepie Walk The Line and Ray’s over-the-top emotional frenzy, while parodying with a vengeance the whole mystique of celebrity sainthood. Move over, Britney Spears.
You already know some mischief is being cooked up mightily into the mix, when that Superbad scribe Judd Apatow turns up in the credits. Conspiring with Walk Hard director and co-writer Jake Kasdan (Freaks and Geeks) to smash as many musical screen idols as possible at one time, Apatow combines the irreverent wit of SNL gags with the corny scenarios of those movies in question, that don’t really need much help in generating plenty of self-mockery.
John C. Reilly does Dewey Cox as an initially troubled, hilariously beer gut middle-aged teen, courtesy of a makeup department that deliberately discarded the usual ridiculously youth-enhancing makeovers here for its over-the-hill stars, relatively speaking. In a wacko Abel and Cain setup, Dewey suffers second-class status in his dysfunctional backwoods family to favored brother Daniel. One day while engaging in a little fantasy swordplay in the barn, Dewey possibly not so accidentally severs his resented sibling in two. And it’s a strangely comical disaster which seals his fate as family pariah, doomed to wander the earth a moody and moping sad sack, when not happily jamming on stage.
Walk Hard, with its raunchy comedy skit-to-screen sensibility, not surprisingly has its frequent ups and downs, but with the buoyant moments offering plenty to forgive the more stagnant interludes. Among the coolest high-lights count the variously drugged Dewey indulging in controlled substance group activity with participants parading around in assorted states of undress; and his encounter as a little kid with some seasoned elderly bluesmen in the woods who hand over the guitar, and novice Dewey’s belting out a number in raspy baritone like a pro who’s eight going on eighty.
Then it’s on to an early gig during his loser period, worshipfully mopping up a black folks’ disco. Inevitably of course, Dewey drops janitor duty and begs his way on to the stage the one night that the main attraction rapper calls in sick. Not quite getting it that he’s the only white guy on the premises, Dewey indulges his own inner rapper with some off-color race lyrics – just the way the house star always does it – and ends up, well, getting the Imus treatment, to say the least.
Equally radical but tame in intent pulled off by Apatow and Kasden from just about but not quite going off that rude deep end, is a mock-lewd episode of nasty gyrations on the same house floor. And the devilish duo is not at all shy about taking what’s really going on with those highly suggestive moves, to what might actually be marinating in the dirty minds of those too much information, sexually charged dancers.
So outrageous is the equal opportunity putdown of all those music biopics in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, that they’re not likely to ever be taken seriously again. Which could leave Hollywood in a panic tailspin into rewrite hell this winter, or at least potentially stalled in script-by-committee mode. And by the way, Dewey’s music isn’t too bad either in the movie.