Good time to take a 'Walk': Reilly makes 'The Dewey Cox Story' more hit than miss

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2007


  This undated photo provided by Sony Pictures shows, from left to right, Tim Meadows, John C. Reilly, Matt Besser and Chris Parnell from the movie "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." Gemma La Mana

This undated photo provided by Sony Pictures shows, from left to right, Tim Meadows, John C. Reilly, Matt Besser and Chris Parnell from the movie "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."

Gemma La Mana

For a brief time in the 80s, parody was a guaranteed box office winner. "Airplane," "The Naked Gun," and "Spinal Tap," were all seminal movies, taking up the torch from Mel Brooks and influencing countless future films.

What made them work was a delicate mix of clever writing, a sharp, up-to-date social and popular awareness, and the willingness to just be silly sometimes. Plus, the 70s were so serious, it was inevitable that there would have to be some heavy-duty mocking in the years to come.

But around the turn of the century, all that changed. In 2000, "Scary Movie" came out and ruined everything. It was brilliant, but so raunchy and vile that it skewed Hollywood's sense of humor to the point where we almost never got it back.

"Scary Movie" sequels are odious, and the films they spawned just get worse and worse. "Not Another Teen Movie," "Date Movie," "Epic Movie" ... yech. Poor acting, cheap production values, easy jokes, and an emphasis on sex and toilet jokes make these "films" almost unwatchable. There's another coming around the bend, "Meet the Spartans," that looks to follow right in line, so you might say the whole genre is dead.

Thank goodness for Dewey Cox.

I want to say at the outset that "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" is not as funny as those original 80s classics I mentioned. And, it's also not as funny as the previous films of Judd Apatow, including "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," and the hilarious, but too raunchy "Superbad." It is, however, one of the best parody films I've seen in nearly a decade, and that's saying something.

John C. Reilly is perfectly cast as Dewey Cox, an every-singer whose story spans the history of American rock 'n roll. When, in the opening few minutes, a young Dewey kills his brother in a tragic machete fight accident, our hero takes his first steps on a path that beautifully melds and mercilessly mocks the plots of both "Ray" and "Walk the Line."

Lacking the love of his father, Dewey turns first to the blues, then, as the tallest and oldest looking 14-year-old on the planet, to the new sounds of rock 'n roll. At the school dance he causes a riot when his song ("I want to walk with you in the park and hold your hand") incites anarchy.

"It's the devil's music!" shouts the preacher before being slugged by a teen flush with the nascent rebelliousness and sexual freedom that this satanic sound would soon loose on the entire country. From there Dewey moves through the American music scene like a drug-fueled Forrest Gump, ducking Elvis' karate chops, doing acid with the Beatles, even hosting his own variety show in the 70s.

It's never easy, what with multiple wives, dozens of kids, a stint in prison, and nearly non-stop drug and alcohol binges but, as Dewey would say, "It's a hard and rocky road I will have to walk, but I will walk it, and I will walk hard!"

"Walk Hard," though fun, is kind of hit and miss. Mostly hit, but not entirely. The basic problem is that the writers aren't as good at satire as they are at situational comedy. They felt the need to keep reminding you that you were watching a parody with broad and easy jokes, some of which work, but some of which are just dumb. What saves this film, however, is the obvious work that went into it. Even "Scary Movie 4" had a couple of funny scenes, but it was so cheaply slapped together that it's not even worth fast-forwarding through.

"Walk Hard," on the other hand, is meticulously put together with attention paid to every detail. The acting is pitch perfect, with Reilly playing obliviousness to a tee and Jenna Fischer beautifully capturing his muse.

The myriad cameos throughout the film are hilarious, my favorite of which are the Beatles, played by Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long, and Jason Schwartzmann with accents so terrible that they had to keep reminding the audience of who they are. It's very silly, but it works.

Word to the wise: Though the preview may look about as controversial as a Saturday Night Live sketch, "Walk Hard" is not for kids. It's definitely raunchy, though in a much sillier and obviously over-the top fashion than in Apatow's previous films.

Silly and over-the-top is a good way to sum up the entire movie -- a big mess of mostly funny scenes, great performances, and some really dumb gags, all put together with the utmost care, a metaphor for American music if I ever saw one.

Grade: B+

"Walk Hard" is rated R for violence, language, drug use, and graphic nudity and sexual situations. By the way, stay through the credits. The final joke is possible the most subtle and well-done of the entire movie.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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