If last week’s MTV Video Awards are any indication, rock and roll is dead ? or at least, in intensive care. Maybe we should just accept that and get on with our lives in the new music world known as formulaic pop; “Bootylicious” is kind of catchy, after all. And we could all be fairly content if it weren’t for films like “Rock Star” that try to make us relive the glory days when being a true fan didn’t involve hanging outside “TRL,” buying thousands of dollars worth of paraphernalia and writing for an Internet FanZine. The key word there is “try.”
A film like “Rock Star” is designed to tell a timeless story and cover universal hopes and dreams by using specifics and nostalgia of days gone by. Yet the question remains: Can the lessons come through when supported by arena rock, a genre not entirely appealing to everyone; the 1980s, a decade most may smile at but would rather forget; and hair, lots and lots of hair?
As much as “Rock Star” puts forth a valiant effort to tackle this dogma, using the pretty and not talentless Mark Wahlberg (“Planet of the Apes”) and Jennifer Aniston (“Object of My Affection) and the witty script of Callie Khouri and John Stockwell, it loses steam and never quite finds the right tone.
Walhberg’s mix of vulnerability and hard-ass-ness is exactly what his role as die-hard fan Chris calls for. At one time, screen darling Brad Pitt had been slated for the lead role, but for once, cheaper is better. Chris fixes copiers while living with his parents by day and fronts a tribute band of the AC/DC-esque Steel Dragon by night. His dedication and vocals, something Walhberg worked on for six months before shooting, pay off when Steel Dragon kicks out their lead singer and asks Chris to take over the mic. We root for him during his tryout, cheer for him during his first concerts, hope his romance works out — and then we lose interest.
The film’s strengths — a tight, yet not hole-less, script and a story of “a wannabe who got to be” — can only bring an audience so far. A film must choose fluffiness or serious drama, both of which can be good when the film commits to one. Unfortunately, “Rock Star” aims for both. After their first night of true partying like rock stars, Wahlberg’s and Aniston’s characters just wander back to their hotel room half-naked and hung over. Given the time period, they should perhaps be wandering into a clinic for some tests, yet STDs and addiction go unmentioned in favor of flashy editing and musical montages.
Still, there is something intriguing about a nobody who becomes a somebody just because of his love for music. This is not “Behind The Music” for the big screen. It’s a film for music fans, not music historians. Anyone who has ever felt the rush of being front-row for their favorite band or the humiliation of knowing just a little too much about their favorite singer will appreciate “Rock Star.” Yet anyone who has ever enjoyed a solid film will be a little disappointed because “Rock Star” fails to keep the pace it sets in the beginning.
In the end, the mix of half-executed comedy and mediocre drama makes this “Rock Star” slightly tone-deaf, more of an opening band rather than a headliner.