John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows
Jake Kasdan, Judd Apatow
I've got a question for you.
How do you feel about Cox?
Do you like Cox hard? Soft? Long? Short?
Do you like funny Cox? Serious Cox?
Perhaps you like your Cox high as a kite?
However you like your Cox, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" has a whole lotta Cox for you in person of frequent cinematic second banana John C. Reilly ("Boogie Nights" and "The Hours"), whose gift for comedy was largely unknown prior to his supporting sting in last year's Will Ferrell comedy "Talladega Nights."
"Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" is essentially a spoof on the recent spate of music biopics like "Walk the Line," "Ray" and a host of others. While it's not necessarily imperative to have seen such films prior to viewing "Walk Hard," having done so will make viewing "Walk Hard" infinitely more pleasurable and undoubtedly more funny.
Co-scripted by current comedy flavor-of-the-month Judd Apatow and the "unbelievably he keeps finding work" Jake Kasdan, "Walk Hard" follows the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall of Dewey Cox, whose dramatic background includes the mandatory childhood trauma (slicing his more promising brother in half), dysfunctional marriage, repeated battles with substance abuse, obligatory second marriage to a religious wife and, well, by now you get the picture.
After seeing the trailer for "Walk Hard" countless times in recent months, my expectations for the film were modest at best. While the notion of watching Reilly channel a variety of musical characters, most notably Johnny Cash, sounded entertaining, the trailers seemed to be a hit-and-miss mishmash of music film cliche's and weak comic set-ups.
Fortunately, "Walk Hard" actually works far better than it should largely on the strength of an almost maniacally obsessive performance by Reilly and a supporting cast that is as funny as it is quirky.
Dewey starts out as a rather aimless Alabama boy whose father reminds him constantly after the tragic machete accident involving his brother that "the wrong son died." Dewey leaves home at 14, marries his 12-year-old girlfriend Edith (a hilarious Kristen Wiig), gets a break musically, gets introduced to drugs and falls in love with his real true love and back-up singer Darlene (Jenna Fischer, "The Office").
What else happens? Hmmm. How about hanging with The Fab Four ( Jack Black as Paul, Paul Rudd as John, Justin Long as George and Jason Schwartzman as Ringo) and being introduced to acid and animation?
No, wait. How about Jack White as Buddy Holly? Frankie Muniz as Elvis?
I'm not kidding folks. For sheer audacity, the casting director is either completely brilliant, trippin' on acid or out of their freakin' mind.
I haven't even mentioned the folks who show up as themselves...like Eddie Vedder, Lyle Lovett, Jackson Browne, The Temptations, Jewel and Ghostface Killah.
While "Walk Hard" possesses about as cohesive a storyline as a pair of shoes on my footless stumps, the simple truth is that even when it's utterly pointless and directionless the film is still just plain funny.
Instead of taking the "throw everything at the screen approach," "Walk Hard" manages to stay interesting because in spoofing the musical biopics it actually seems to become one. Reilly, whose ability as a dramatic actor has been obvious for years, manages to develop a character who is simultaneously sympathetic and funny even when he's doing practically nothing. Thus, Kasdan and Apatow's script manages to both spoof other films and, somehow, create an interesting film in and of itself.
Kasdan ("Orange County" and "The TV Set") directs the film with a steadier hand than usual, providing further evidence that he's actually starting to grow as a filmmaker after last year's promising "The TV Set."
The film's music is sort of a cross between "This is Spinal Tap" and Tenacious D, and Reilly, who proved his vocal chops in "Chicago," projects an almost eerily Johnny Cash persona quite convincingly.
While "Walk Hard" is frequently funny, more than a few jokes fall flat, the storyline is mostly irrelevant and within a few hours of the screening I attended I noticed that much of the film had already left my memory causing me to question whether it was the sort of film that could have lasting power or attract enough word-of-mouth praise to make the modestly budgeted flick a box-office winner during the closing days of 2007.
It should be noted that "Walk Hard" does, indeed, display full frontal male nudity (as any real movie about Cox would).
Better than expected on the strength of John C. Reilly's Golden Globe-nominated performance, "Walk Hard" is proof positive than sometimes even a limp Cox is worth watching!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic