Not as good as I was hoping, still a whole lot better than Walk the Line
I was probably too amped to see Walk Hard. For one thing, I’ve loved just about every movie that’s come out of the Judd Apatow axis since Anchorman. But in the past couple of years, Apatow’s usual ensemble-cast suspects have been telling actual stories that resonate emotionally without forsaking the usual onslaught of dick-jokes. But Walk Hard is pretty much just an Airplane!-style joke-a-minute onslaught, and that’s not something these guys have done before; even Anchorman and Blades of Glory weren’t really straight-up parodies because they didn’t really send up anything in particular. Walk Hard is parody through and through, but its target is the paint-by-numbers musician biopic, a genre that’s been dependably choking on its own bullshit for a few years now. Over the past couple of months, we’ve seen the musician biopic defiled in just about every conceivable way. First off, El Cantante tried to play it straight but came up with a god-awful flaccid turkey of a movie in the process. Control arted the whole thing up but still fell into too many of the usual narrative traps. And I’m Not There mostly avoided those narrative traps, but it only did so by making an incoherent muddle out of its source material. So the time should be ripe for a movie like Walk Hard to come along and just explode this ridiculous little subgenre out of existence. But the movie doesn’t quite manage its task, if only because it focuses too intently on sending up one movie. Walk the Line was a sort of ridiculous movie, and in its air of stifling solemnity it certainly left itself open for parody. But it’s not enough of a target that a movie like Walk Hard can get over by remaking Walk the Line scene-for-scene and just adding jokes, which is pretty much what Walk Hard does for its first half-hour or so. Also: too many stunt cameos, sucky and not particularly funny original songs, bad running jokes about smell-blindness and accidentally cutting people in half, an extended stretch near the end where the movie loses sight of music completely and becomes almost a parody of itself. I still laughed, hard and consistently through most of the thing. Just don’t expect another Anchorman. Anyway, here’s a (short) list of stuff I learned watching Walk Hard:
• If the trailers for Semi-Pro and Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay are any indication, 2008 is going to be an amazing year for stoner comedy. Bring it on.
• The Cox/cocks pun, which appears roughly eight billion times in Walk Hard, stops being funny about ten seconds into the movie.
• The kid actor who plays the young Dewey Cox at the beginning of the movie really really sucks. I can’t tell whether that’s a conscious directorial decision or what. The kid who played the young Johnny Cash in Walk the Line wasn’t all that good either, so maybe it’s a parody? Or maybe somebody’s nephew just got cast? Either way, there has to be a better fat-kid actor somewhere in Hollywood.
• I really love the bit about totally innocent music causing orgies and riots. For someone like me, not even close to being born during the 50s, the historical truism that early rock music was threatening and dangerous has always seemed sort of strange and implausible, and it’s fun to see a movie send it up so ruthlessly.
• Jack White’s split-second cameo as Elvis is shockingly well-done; he’s made the transition from oblique joke-songs to straight-up mainstream film comedy remarkably smoothly, and judging by his ten seconds of screen time, he could probably hold down a whole movie pretty well. (Another of my co-stars from the “Denial Twist” video, short Conan Nic Novicki, turns up briefly during Cox’s protest singer phase, as a member of the Short Panther Party who holds up a fist while Cox sings for midget rights. Novicki was a really nice guy, and I’m glad to see him doing his thing.)
• Eddie Vedder did a better job making fun of his rambling Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speeches at his actual induction speech for R.E.M. than he does during the pat of the movie where he gives Cox some lifetime achievement award.
• John C. Reilly can sort of sing! Or at least not embarrass himself. I probably would’ve already known this if I’d seen Chicago.
• I like the idea of all the Beatles being played by guest-stars in cameos, but the Beatles bit in Walk Hard just falls completely flat. It’s weird.
• One of the most intriguing parts of the movie is where it basically becomes music criticism, like where it makes fun of Bob Dylan for having impenetrable lyrics or Brian Wilson for piling way too many instruments on top of each other. Comments-section fruitflies would lose their minds if any actual music critic tried to make these points. (I’m not actually making these points; I’m just saying.)
• The part where Cox sings disco is pretty broad and obvious, but it works. I think I would’ve preferred it if we got to see Cox’s other stabs at era-specific trends, like if we got to see him try synthpop or hair-metal or Miami bass or whatever.
• The Ghostface cameo is basically the same likable, ridiculous cameo Ghostface made the first time he showed up on 30 Rock. I wonder if the Ghost cameo during next year’s Iron Man movie will be the same one again. I sort of hope so.