Thursday, April 17, 2008

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Thanks to DVD technology, I've been making my way through the first and second seasons of Saturday Night Live, and if watching these early episodes reveals anything, it's that, even at the pinnacle of its relevance, the show was always an uneven muddle. These early episodes are eminently enjoyable to watch, if only for their time-capsule qualities, but seeing Gilda Radner do Emily Litella for the fortieth time lays bare how eager the show was to go for the easy joke and how readily it wasted the talent of the comic actors at its disposal. I'm not all that interested in adding my voice to the plethora of words which debate the merits of SNL, but watching Walk Hard reminded me of seeing the great John Belushi or Jane Curtin hamming it up to eke out laughs from a poorly-written parody of the latest hit film.

Walk Hard is a terrible comedy, unfunny and uninspired. Chronicling the rise and fall of singer-songwriter Dewey Cox, it aims to lampoon the treacly artist biopic film, but the jokes are so incredibly obvious, on-the-nose, and overplayed (triple-O adjective score!) that the result is more Scary Movie than Airplane! Its idea of mocking the conventions of the genre seems to consist of stating that these conventions exist and winking. When Dewey Cox realizes he's abusing drugs and alienating the people he loves, he moans, "What a dark period!" 'Cause, you know, all these movies like Ray or Walk the Line feature the artist going through a dark period, so if we state it outright, that's comedy gold!

At the center of this mess are the wasted performances from comedic actors who deserve better. John C. Reilly as Dewey Cox seems to have borrowed Will Ferrell's acting toolbox for much of the film, but he's more charming than Ferrell and is able to earn some laughs through the sincerity of his performance alone. Tim Meadows has a nice turn as Cox's drummer, and a few more characters on the periphery of the story manage to spin gold out of nothing. The songs that Cox sings are funny too, particularly the ode to Little People sung during the Bob Dylan phase of the movie, but these things do not a movie make. If only the novelty music market wasn't in the stranglehold of the Yankovic monopoly, the filmmakers may have been more open to the idea that the best realization of their impulses was a solidly funny album.

It's odd that, for all the comic pedigree attached, Walk Hard commits the worst sin a comedy can: it begs for laughs. All throughout this movie, I felt like a man in a loud Hawaiian shirt was saying, "Huh? Huh?" after every (presumably) funny line and rolling on with his act in defiance to my indifference. When Cox, who lost his sense of smell after a childhood trauma, regains the ability to smell things, he goes around joyfully smelling everything in sight. When he gets to a pile of horse manure, he lingers on it, remarks upon how bad it smells, and then lingers some more. And it goes on and on, like the filmmakers thought that smelling shit never stops being funny. And, oh, how I would have agreed with them just an hour or so before I saw this remarkably unfunny, hammy moment.

The desperate, flop-sweat drenched writing in the film is shameful. It's like they shot the first draft of the screenplay before realizing that they only had enough material to support a longer-than-average sketch. Worse, the movie's observations about the genre are about as tired and trite as the films it's targeting. Frankly, I don't need Walk Hard to make fun of these conventions for me, particularly as it's got nothing more to say than any reasonably intelligent person. If I'm watching something that's predictably chronicling the rise and fall of an artist, I can be trusted to turn to my friends and intone, "What a dark period!" at the appropriate moments and then nudge them to make sure they got the joke all on my own, thank you.

4 comments:

Well, said...

I would have to disagree. I feel that this movie is a pinnacle of John C. Riley's career. The music is not only funny, but most of the songs on the soundtrack could be hits in their respective time periods. The acting is a little hammy, but that is the style now a days. And if you didn't think the horse poop scene was funny with Jenna Fischer yelling "Smell that sh@!, baby!" in the background, then I am not sure i can place any stock in your review.

David Wester said...

"The acting is a little hammy, but that is the style now a days"

The style sucks. Pointing it out is paramount to our survival as a species.

"And if you didn't think the horse poop scene was funny with Jenna Fischer yelling "Smell that sh@!, baby!" in the background, then I am not sure i can place any stock in your review."

Eh. This may have made me laugh uproariously when I was 8. So did Perfect Strangers and Urkel. (And seriously what's with hiding the word shit (or shat or whatever) behind a perfectly innocent @ symbol? What did that @ do to you that you'd cover it in shit like that? Shit!)

Emery said...

Walk Hard begs for laughs like your reviews beg for respect and for the record, your reviews are hilarious to me. I howled as I read this one.

Either your tongue is glued to your cheek or your head is shoved in your ass.

Either way, HILARIOUS!

David Wester said...

For the record... It's both. My tongue's up my ass cheek.