WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: Young rocker Chris loves English metal band Steel Dragon so much, he’ll fight anyone to prove his tribute band is the most authentic, including other bands and his own band members. His passion gets him ejected from ‘Blood Pollution’ but a bigger gig – replacing Steel Dragon’s lead singer Bobby Beers – comes along and takes Chris, and his loving girlfriend Emily, on a wild trip that will change both their lives forever.
When Sylvester Stallone penned the script to Rocky in a few short weeks in the 1970s, his tale of a plucky unknown suddenly given a shot at the big time resonated with a worldwide audience and if not established, then certainly rejuvenated a popular formula that has been imitated in dozens of sports (and other) movies since. Rock Star gives the Rocky treatment to the world of 1980s heavy metal, and such is the ham-fistedness of the treatment, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Mr Balboa’s name amongst the screenwriting credits.
Rock Star takes us back to the mid-80s, when big hair and flamboyant English band Steel Dragon ruled the heavy metal world. Young American Chris ‘Izzy’ Cole (‘Marky’ Mark Wahlberg) is such a devotee that he knows the songs as well as Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng), Steel Dragon’s lead singer, and is prepared to rumble with anyone who says a word against them, including Black Babylon, the mortal enemies of his own tribute band, Blood Pollution. When Chris starts attacking his own guitarist for daring to improvise on stage, he’s chucked out of the band with only girlfriend Emily (Jennifer Aniston) and his photocopier maintenance job for consolation; but his woes are short-lived, as a shock phone-call from Steel Dragon guitarist and founder Kirk Cuddy (Dominic West) sees Chris auditioned and installed as the band’s new frontman, Bobby being too old, knackered and homosexual to do the job any more (‘It’s like being Elvis’, he claims, in a self-aggrandizing moment).
Izzy is at first exhilarated to find his dreams becoming reality and throws himself into the rock’n’roll lifestyle, but its excesses – handily catered for by road manager Timothy Spall – soon drive a wedge between him and Emily, who objects to being lumped in with the inflated, cynical WAGs trailing behind the tour bus. Chris must make the decision whether life with the band he worships is really everything he wants, or whether there’s another path which may not satisfy his appetite for destruction, but would provide a whole lotta love (sorry).
I could criticise Rock Star for its lack of flair, vitality, or imagination; or the fact that it fails to capture the essence of the 1980s in the slightest, or that its painfully humourless treatment of an absurdly overblown subject, with Izzy’s incessant ‘rawk’ gesturing, is an insult to the memory of Spinal Tap, whose songs (by the way) are a cut above any of the boring Steel Dragon numbers here (some soft metal classics such as Livin’ on a Prayer do show up, and they show up the fake band’s tracks for the dross they are). I could criticise the scriptwriters for taking a potentially fascinating true story (read up on the history of Judas Priest, if you’re interested) and creating a succession of clichéd scenes as Chris struggles to decide between the hedonistic trappings of fame and his love for Emily; ending up with the biggest cliché of the lot as history repeats itself: Chris plucks another wannabe from the crowd and he walks off to perform his own moody Seattle Rock instead.
But none of this is necessary, since it’s clear from the off that the casting of the film renders it pretty much dead on arrival. Wahlberg is adequate as the dreamer with stars in his eyes, but Jennifer Aniston is horribly miscast as his girlfriend, her fresh face, nice hair and snippy, sarcastic manner screaming ‘I’m Rachel from Friends!’ and suggesting she’d be out with a can of spray if a dirty roadie came within a mile of her. When she leaves the tour to start a business with another bored girlfriend in Seattle (how exciting!), we feel relieved that she has gone back to familiar territory – a coffee shop. Unfortunately, she comes back and confronts an addled Chris with the truth of what he has become, although it’s surprisingly easy for him to march out of the band for good.
The film can’t even claim, unlike The Doors or Walk the Line, that it shows off the actors’ hidden talents, since Wahlberg’s voice was dubbed by a real rock singer and West looks as though he’d been introduced to his guitar, and his wig, five minutes before filming began. He even manages to mangle his own accent! Only Timothy Spall comes out of the enterprise with any credit, as the sleazy fixer who had the ordinary life but walked out on it in the name of rock; but he had already been down this path in Still Crazy.
Not only does Herek fail to make the rock’n’roll exciting – a mystery since he seemed to get the joke in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure – he does a pretty poor job of the sex and drugs too, filming a scene in a bar with much kissing and pill-popping which transforms into a semi-nude aftermath without anything naughty happening in between. Chris’s nice parents and cop brother appear throughout the film, and it’s as though the director didn’t want to film anything too offensive for fear of upsetting them; of course, upsetting strait-laced people is the whole business of Heavy Metal, and Rock Star plays it far too safe. It’s not without accidental pleasures, and it’s always entertaining to see some biggish names making themselves look very silly (just how grateful must Dominic West be for The Wire?); but this movie offers no more insight into the world of rock music than Rocky does to the real arena of heavyweight boxing.