The Rocker

Director    Peter Cattaneo
Starring    Rainn Wilson, Christina Applegate, Emma Stone, Jason Sudeikis, Bradley Cooper
Release    20 AUG (US) 17 OCT (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars


13th October 2008

The transition from TV to movies is always a tricky one. How many times have we seen the star of a huge television show attempt to climb a rung of the entertainment ladder only to fall off the entire thing altogether? Seen any David Caruso movies lately? Sobering indeed. Now it's the turn of Rainn Wilson to make the leap to leading man, having put in several years as super-spod Dwight Schrute in the US version of The Office and wet his toes with a wordy cameo in Juno last year. Although The Rocker didn't exactly propel him to Steve Carell-like levels of stardom upon release in the US, it'd be a shame to see him trudging back to the day job with his tail between his legs.

The movie kicks off with an '80s flashback, with Wilson's drummer Fish rocking the skins at the back of hair-metal outfit Vesuvius (Vocals: Will Arnett, Lead Guitar: Wedding Crashers' Bradley Cooper) before being unceremoniously dumped by request of the record company. Flash-forward to the modern day, and Fish hasn't played the drums for 20 years, settling for an office job (nice) and a rock-free existence. That is, until his nephew Matt (Gad) requests his expertise for his band's first gig - and ADD is born. After a naked rehearsal leads to them becoming YouTube sensations, the band - with a newly-rejuvenated Fish on drums - set off on a US tour to promote their emo crap around America.

Wilson wisely steers clear of Dwight territory, presenting a likeable - if forgettable - lead character. But something feels odd. It'll take you a while to put your finger on it, but the penny drops eventually - it's been so long since we've seen a role for a middle-aged man that doesn't feel like it was written for Will Ferrell. There's no swearing, no temper tantrums, no stomping around seeking attention. It's a nice, gentle comedic role that's sketched pretty thinly, but at least it's not trying to be Anchorman.

Although The Rocker is being sold as a star vehicle (piggy-backing the Judd Apatow poster motif in the process), Wilson often feels like he's in a different movie to everyone else. The movie chugs along like a teeny-bopper version of That Thing You Do, complete with concerned parents, an inter-band romance and a chiseled lead singer suffering from teenage angst. Needless to say, you'll struggle to give two shits about the band and their shitty music - why call the movie The Rocker if none of it rocks? Would it kill you to drop in some Alice Cooper or KISS?

With Wilson working on his musical mid-life crisis shtick to mildly amusing effect, Jason Sudeikis' douchebag band manager gets all the best lines ("John Lennon just role over in his grave to hide the boner you just gave him," he enthuses after a particularly impressive jam session). Laughs are otherwise pretty thin on the ground; Will Arnett's six minutes of screen-time aren't nearly enough, Gad is nothing but a poor man's Jonah Hill while Christina Applegate has now completed her transformation into being Jennifer Aniston - it's genuinely quite unsettling. Thankfully, Sudeikis keeps 'em coming. "Are you familiar with the term 'MILF'?" he asks Applegate, presumably to several cringes of concerned parents in the audience. That's more like it.

Perhaps it's down to poor direction that The Rocker doesn't know which rhythm to stick with - with Peter Cattaneo at the helm, the movie frequently strays off on unnecessary tangents like ill-advised romantic misadventures, where a straight-up rock 'n' roll comedy would have sufficed. There's a funny music film in the edit somewhere, but it's forever fighting it out with a neutered Nick Jr. movie of the month. Wilson hits all his comedic beats as required, but The Rocker is otherwise more Keane than Keith Moon: slow, safe and about as edgy as a tangerine.

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