To be frank, Peter Cattaneo
's The Rocker has about as much to do with rock and roll as a baby hippopotamus has to do with the Battle of Verdun.Rainn Wilson
, the talented comedian and actor made celebrity by the role of Dwight Schrute on NBC's The Office, plays Robert Fishman, Fish to his friends. Back when leopard-print stockings on men seemed like a stroke of genius, Fish is the drummer for burgeoning hair metal outfit Vesuvius. When the band is offered a contract with Matchbook Records, they find that the only catch to the deal is that the label wants the son of one of its bigwigs to take Fish's place. Fish is out.
Years and a dozen or so records later, Vesuvius has become "The Beatles of their generation" while Fish has taken to sleeping in his sister's attic. It's his nephew Matt (Josh Gad
) who gives Fish the chance to play with his band, A.D.D., when they lose their drummer before a cherry gig at the prom. It's not until after a minor split and regrouping that the rest of the band, guitarist/singer Curtis (singer/songwriter Teddy Geiger) and bassist Amelia (Emma Stone
), accepts Fish as their drummer. A.D.D. becomes a hit, thanks to Fish's new rep on YouTube as "The Naked Drummer," a name given for his ritual of practicing in the buff. Article continues below
The screenplay was written by husband-wife team Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky, and one gets the feeling that they were simply brought in to fill in the blanks of the story dreamt up by Ryan Jaffe. Wolodorsky was a supervising producer and writer on The Simpsons in the show's early-'90s heyday while Forbes once wrote and served as a co-executive producer on The Larry Sanders Show. These are people who understand humor. But the jokes that are formed and deployed in The Rocker have no snare. Witless and limp, they seem to survive only as parasites living off the energy of the actors.
One exception comes to mind and that is Jason Sudeikis
, whom you might know from Saturday Night Live and his role as Floyd on NBC's 30 Rock. Sudeikis plays David Marshall, a scout for Matchbook Records, who helps A.D.D. secure a recording gig and an opening spot for Vesuvius at their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. Sudeikis knows how to form and deliver a one-liner with bite. Even with co-stars Will Arnett
, Bradley Cooper
, Jane Lynch
(as Fish's sister), and Jeff Garlin
, Sudeikis offers the only laughs Christina Applegate
) by saying, "Man, I'd like to spend nine months in there," it's a moment of pure menace in a castrated poodle of a comedy.
Will Fish overcome his hatred for Vesuvius? Will Curtis stand by him even as the drummer reportedly puts the moves on his mom? If you've made your way to the local movie theater in the last three decades, the answers present themselves. The film is directed by Peter Cattaneo, the English-born filmmaker who crafted the sleeper hit The Full Monty a decade ago. Mr. Cattaneo goes by the book: no charm, no ingenuity, and about as much comic verve as an internment camp. Emma Stone, a bracing presence in last summer's Superbad, seems to be already playing spendthrift with her cred. As for Mr. Geiger, my liver convulses at the thought of him continuing to perform his mindless brand of cheese-pop, but his gross inability as an actor looms as a greater threat.
Certainly nothing this year will compete with the inexcusable The Love Guru for its sheer inability to create laughs, but The Rocker does its best to at least come close.