Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story was sure to be a box office hit following the huge successes of Knocked Up and Superbad earlier in 2007, despite its shaky previews. Ultimately, the poor marketing - or marketing's inability to properly capture the essence of Walk Hard - resulted in the resounding failure of the movie, even though critics showered the quirky comedy with praises. Now out on DVD, I finally got around to watching the film, and I must say I agree with the masses.
One of my favorite actors of all time, John C. Reilly, gets a rare chance at a pure starring role in Judd Apatow's Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a fictional, satirical biography that plays off the lives of various musicians, most specifically Johnny Cash. Dewey grows up as the younger brother of a child prodigy, until he accidentally cuts his brother in half with a machete. While his own musical gift begins to blossom, he is subject to the scorn of his father who, quite constantly, reminds him that "the wrong son died." Dewey leaves home at an early age, marries his 13-year old girlfriend, and his musical career goes from there. From mass appeal to inward-looking Bob Dylan-esque songs to drug addiction, Apatow captures the life of one of the greatest singers who never existed in a short, 90-minute film.
Directed by Jake Kasdan (who has done some "Freaks and Geeks" episodes) and written by Apatow, Walk Hard is quite different from the other Apatow releases of 2007. The movie plays out more like a goofy spoof at times, with ludicrous jabs at reality (long discussions are held with people who were recently cut in two, Reilly plays his character even at age 15, so on and so forth), and is really quite random, albeit intentionally. The movie never dwells on one moment of Dewey's life for more than a couple minutes; it never tries to develop a sequence beyond its comical climax. Abruptly, the film jumps ahead years to some other defining moment, and so on and so forth. In many ways, the movie is like the perfect SNL episode, a montage of short clips that never outstay their welcome. At the same time, this purely intentional style is also the movie's weakness, as after a while the fast clip and randomness of the movie starts to grow old. Furthermore, the movie never really gets to develop a punch line; it relies on a bunch of little, one-after-the-other jokes rather than some master plan.
You can tell that this is exactly the movie Kasdan and Apatow wanted to make, and critics seemed to eat it up. It is also not surprising that marketing had trouble depicting this film to audiences in a way that would make it look good without deceiving them. Ultimately, the movie is good and at times quite funny, but not really my cup of tea. I can't really place a finger on why I didn't like the movie more: I may have just been expecting something else, or it veered a little too closely to the spoof genre which I grew tired of years ago, or that its quick-paced storytelling method just wasn't that good. Either way, Walk Hard is a movie that relies on expectations and a certain appreciation, and it just didn't click with me. Others will love, if not at least like, the movie.
My lack of excitement about the film in no way takes away from the movie's strengths. Reilly is great and continues to prove that he's one of the best actors working today; he can star in dark dramas and then, just as easily, turn around and do a comedy like this. The supporting cast, which includes several SNL stars and other recognizable people, also does a good job. Paul Rudd, Justin Long, Jason Schwartzmann and Jack Black as the Beatles is a highlight.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is not a bad movie by any means and is the film that the creators set out to make. I can't fault the movie other than that it didn't work for me to the degree that I was hoping. The movie is smart, funny and at times edgy, and if you're in the right mood and know what to expect, you might find Walk Hard worth liking.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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