Wahlberg fun to watch, movie isn't 'Rock Star' lacks ridiculousness, despite its true story similarities

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001

Back in the day, Mark Wahlberg was just a troubled kid from South Boston who went by the name Marky Mark, chilled with his posse, the Funky Bunch, and peddled Calvin Klein undies.

He wasn't exactly a rock star. He was just a white guy with great abs and even greater attitude, posing as a rapper -- Vanilla Ice with a Body by Jake.

As the wannabe '80s rock star of ''Rock Star,'' Wahlberg still looks the part -- all feathered hair and tight leather pants, flicking his tongue defiantly at the audience.

His performance is fun to watch, but ''Rock Star'' itself is no fun. It doesn't capture the ridiculousness of heavy metal, or rock music in general. But if it did, it would be ''This Is Spinal Tap.''

Directed by Stephen Herek, who turned a couple of goofs into rock stars in 1989's ''Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure,'' ''Rock Star'' glamorizes and glosses over a business that isn't always glamorous and glossy. In Herek's rock 'n' roll fantasy, even trashed hotel rooms look good the morning after a night of boozy, bisexual bedhopping.

It's the life Wahlberg's character, Chris Cole, has dreamed of for years. A copy machine repairman from Pittsburgh who still lives at home with his parents, Chris worships the British heavy metal band Steel Dragon. He knows everything about them and performs at night as the frontman for a Steel Dragon cover band -- sorry, tribute band, as he prefers to call it.

When Steel Dragon's temperamental lead singer quits, the band asks Chris to take his place. They change his name to Izzy and force him to adopt a British accent -- which he practices obsessively then drops inexplicably during his first big concert, and nobody asks him why.

His girlfriend and manager, Emily (Jennifer Aniston), is thrilled for him at first, until the demands of his new life -- and the ever-present beer, blow and buxom babes -- drive him from her. It's obvious, though, that he'll realize fame isn't all he dreamed it would be, and that love is more important.

John Stockwell's script sounds more than a little like the true story of Tim ''Ripper'' Owens, an Akron, Ohio, man who performed in British Steel, a Judas Priest cover band, and was plucked from obscurity to replace Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford after Halford left in the mid-'90s.

But Steel Dragon isn't nearly as hard-core as Judas Priest -- they're more innocuous like Bon Jovi.

It's impossible to watch ''Rock Star'' without thinking of 1984's ''This is Spinal Tap,'' which perfectly satirized the big-haired self-importance of '80s metal bands and might just be one of the funniest movies ever made.

''Rock Star'' would be so much more watchable if the guys in Steel Dragon complained about the tiny sandwiches backstage and bragged that their amps go to 11.

It's also hard to watch ''Rock Star'' without thinking of Wahl-berg in ''Boogie Nights,'' in which his character followed a similar path. Chris comes from nothing to become lead singer Izzy, just as Eddie Adams came from nothing to become porn star Dirk Diggler.

But Paul Thomas Anderson's 1997 movie was so much more compelling because, after the coke high wore off, something lonely and dark remained.

Other movies about rock 'n' roll -- ''Almost Famous'' springs immediately to mind -- probe the relationship between the famous and the fans with more honesty. The closest ''Rock Star'' comes is when Steel Dragon's road manager (Timothy Spall) explains to Chris that guys want to be rock stars because girls think rock stars are sexy, and guys are the ones who buy the albums, so they're the ones to target.

The best part of ''Rock Star'' comes at the very end. Stay through the closing credits and kick it old school with Marky Mark, one time.

''Rock Star,'' a Warner Bros. release, is rated R for language, sexuality and some drug content. Running time: 102 minutes.


Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G -- General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG -- Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 -- Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R -- Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 -- No one under 17 admitted.

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