Thursday, January 10, 2008


A Sucker for Cox

By Odienator
The double entendre jokes in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story don't get any better than my title, but they share the screen with one of the more committed performances in a genre-spoofing movie. Walk Hard marks the third film in 2007's Judd Apatow triple crown, following the amusing but misogynistic Knocked Up (which he wrote and directed) and the hilarious and sweet Superbad (which he produced). Walk Hard also proved that the man who brought us The 40-Year-Old Virgin is not box-office infallible; this movie was a flop, and I'll bet it had something to do with the poster. Similar to Virgin's goofy Steve Carrell picture, Hard's poster features John C. Reilly, shirtless and goofy, paying homage to Jim Morrison. Of course, you need to be about 40 to get the reference, and most moviegoers hover around the age of 12. To them, Reilly must have looked like the poster boy for middle-age gay porn and I'm sure the title did nothing to disprove it: The Dewey Cox Story.

Perhaps the other reason why Walk Hard's box office numbers were flaccid is its marketing. I thought the film was going to be another in the seemingly endless line of bad parody movies such as Date Movie, Epic Movie and the way past its prime Scary Movie series. Walk Hard is definitely a spoof, but it's more than a series of gags thrown together haphazardly. It's closer to Blazing Saddles than Airplane!, a movie that tries to be a credible example of its target. Reilly is a good singer and an even better vocal mimic, and his performance anchors the film by becoming the one constant joke to which all the spoofy material sticks. For the most part, Walk Hard doesn't suck.

Cox comes onscreen first as a young boy who, true to musical biopic fashion, does something as a child that will haunt him until the final frame of film shoots out of the projector: He accidentally cuts his younger brother in half with a machete. The smaller Cox, who was far more brilliant than Dewey could ever be, doesn't survive, and Pa Cox (Raymond J. Barry) spends the rest of the film telling Dewey "the wrong son died." This gives Dewey a complex the film will use to explain his descent into the standard biopic excesses of sex, drugs and booze.

When Dewey is 14 (and played by the 42-year old Reilly), he runs off with his 12-year-old-girlfriend, Edith (played by 34-year-old Kristen Wiig). In order to make money, Cox waits tables at a juke joint where, according to Coming to America's Paul Bates, "people come to dance erotically." As men and women throw themselves into every sexual position imaginable while driven to frenzy by the club's soul singer, Cox wants a piece of the action on stage. He gets his big break when the club entertainment suffers several big breaks at the hands of a bookie. Dewey performs the singer's act verbatim, which, considering the Black-themed lyrics, comes off as surreal and hilarious. The people dance erotically anyway, and Cox is on the rise.

The Walk Hard of the title makes its appearance in a scene lifted from the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. Dewey's audition goes horribly, and just when it looks like his career may be over, he channels his inner Man in Black and sings the song that will become his signature. Reilly sounds more like Johnny Cash than Joaquin Phoenix, and the song works as both parody and a country western tune. With the studio musicians (Chris Parnell, Matt Besser and Tim Meadows) behind him, Dewey hits the concert circuit and his song becomes a hit. Unfortunately, Dewey's familial guilt worsens as a result of a tragic accident occurring while his parents were dancing to his hit song, "The Wrong Son Died," Pa Cox shows up to inform him.

Once his career takes off, Cox is repeatedly seduced by temptation, which takes the guise of his bandleader Sam (Meadows). Every time Cox goes to the bathroom, he finds Sam behind the door partaking in some form of drugs. "You don't want none of this, Dewey!" Sam says, all the while making it impossible for Dewey to say no. As a result, Cox becomes an alcoholic and a drug addict, plowing through groupies both male and female while his fertile wife Edith (who must have 25 kids in this short period of Dewey's life) remains at home. While partaking in his affairs, Dewey meets his June Carter Cash clone, Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer). This leads not only to the dissolution of his marriage to Edith, but also to a filthy song called "Let's Duet," where Dewey and Darlene sing more double entendres than can fit on a 45. "In my dreams, you're blowin' me," sings Dewey, "...some kisses..."

Like that which it mocks, Walk Hard takes us through various stages in Dewey's career, including his run-ins with famous people such as Elvis (played by Jack White of the White Stripes) and the Beatles (Paul is played by an actor you'd never expect). The swipes at the aforementioned are brutal enough (the Beatles wind up in what looks like a bad UFC match), but Apatow and director Jake Kasdan mine a small gem of genius when Cox pays tribute to Bob Dylan. Reilly's Dylan makes Cate Blanchett's imitation look like the bad Harpo Marx on drugs clone it is, and the song, "Royal Jelly," is a mishmash of nonsense that sounds a lot like some of Dylan's lousier material.

Walk Hard is full of little moments like these, ones that seem like throwaway gags but actually have some thought and construction behind them. Several times, the film reaches for a level of absurdity that is raucous and enjoyable, smoothing over some of its rougher patches. The songs are more than just jokes, and Reilly's versatility carries him from the deep rumble of Johnny Cash to the high notes of Roy Orbison (the Orbison song may be the best one in the movie). Reilly even gets to sing a disturbing yet touching song about his character's death during the credits. All the songs are first rate and perhaps we'll see Cox performing on Oscar night. (Don't we always?)

For all Walk Hard's verbal Cox jokes ("I need Cox," is one of the first lines we hear in the film), the piece de resistance has to be a completely gratuitous extended scene of male frontal nudity that somehow got past the prudes at the MPAA. As Dewey sits on the floor talking to his first wife during a hotel room orgy, his roadie Bert occupies the frame behind him. Or rather, a certain part of Bert. Reilly carries on a conversation with Bert's favorite toy, whose owner asks him for information and at one point, shares a beer with him. Reilly deserves his Golden Globe for not cracking up while carrying on a conversation with a guy while his junk is inches from his face. This scene is so popular that on NPR, one of the sleepy-voiced female hosts asked Jake Kasdan how he came up with the idea. Kasdan said he had seen an old Rolling Stones documentary where the entire band was full frontal nude for no reason. Bert's penis is far less scary than I'd imagine Keith Richards' to be. Richards' jammy was probably smoking a cigarette.

If you can only get to one Apatow movie from 2007, I suggest you get some McLovin, but if you can get to two, feast your eyes on some Cox.

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Who plays Paul? Is it Casey Affleck? Because when I saw "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," the whole time I sat there thinking, "The Walrus killed Jesse James!"
Paul Rudd is John, Jason Schwartzman is Ringo, Justin "Hullo I'm a Mac" Long is George and Jack Black is the Cute Beatle. Now that's crazy casting, and I loved their overdone accents. If Cate Blanchett can play Bob Dylan, I suppose Jack Black can play McCartney.

And yes, the Walrus killed Jesse James. Doesn't Lennon tell you that in Glass Onion? Maybe not.

Aside: Malcolm in the Middle's Frankie Muniz plays Buddy Holly, but they should have gotten Steve Buscemi for that.
I heartily recommend the soundtrack. I enjoyed it more than the movie. The best song they came up with, a blissfully ignorant protest song called "Dear Mr. President," never made it to the screen. And the full hillbilly version of "That's Amore" is awesome.
That Dear Mr. President song really is good. I'm looking forward to the DVD so I can see the deleted scenes of some of the songs.

The hillbilly "That's Amore" reminds me of that group that does bluegrass versions of Pink Floyd and AC/DC!
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