Headbanger’s ball

The Rocker
Director: Peter Cattaneo
Screenwriter: Peter Cattaneo
Cast: Rainn Wilson, Christina Applegate, Jane Lynch, Josh Gad, Jeff Garlin
Release Date: 2008-08-20
Rated: PG-13
Genre: Comedy

Rainn Wilson, surely known best (to anyone not having spent the past few years literally sewn up within a sturdy burlap sack at the bottom of a vast and unfeeling sea — with limited television access) as “Dwight” from the Stateside Office, is here Robert Fishman (“Fish,” familiarly), dead-eyed tech-support functionary, hibernating glam-rock leviathan. Ousted years back from now-legendary (and sadly, fictional) outfit Vesuvius, Fish seems destined to live out his years à la post-op McMurphy, docilely trading the last flickering remnants of his Spandexed soul for a paycheck.

Until, that is, things go from bad to worse, he loses his job, and he’s forced to move in with his tsk-tsking sister (the always-worth-watching Jane Lynch), whose high-schooler son Matt just happens to have a band with some friends. In short order, the kids find themselves in need of a drummer, Fish obliges, and following a (surprisingly) not-all-that-farfetched chain of events, the foursome have hit the road a signed act.

Now, I approached The Rocker with cautious optimism. And indeed, there are some hitches. The humor is occasionally a bit uneven: There’s a clunker every so often, particularly early, as the story is warming up. And while, much to Wilson’s credit, you don’t have a significant Schrute-centric thought beyond the first few minutes, the role doesn’t quite seem a glove-perfect fit for the actor at every point. The man behind the Fish gets his laughs; don’t misunderstand, but he’s capable of subtler fare than the slapstick to which he is largely relegated here.

What both Wilson and the film do rather nail, on the other hand, is the story’s heart — which, along with Chad Fischer’s eons-better-than-they-needed-to-be original songs for faux-rockers A.D.D. (Fish and the kids’ unit) and Vesuvius, holds things together nicely and allows us to forgive missteps.

The cast as a whole, in fact, is unusually strong. The kids more than hold their own: Stone is sharp-tongued-but-sweet, Gad is winsomely twitchy and naturalistic, and Geiger can sing his big dreamy peepers off. Meawhile, Sudeikis, a much-underrated talent, absolutely kills (a certain not-for-everyone John Lennon crack by his unctuous music-agent character made me lose it louder than any other single line I’ve heard this year). Even some of the much-smaller supporting roles are noticeably well-written and/or -performed: Jeff Garlin’s vicarious-thrill-seeking brother-in-law, and standup standout Demetri Martin’s fiendishly funny music-video director come easily to mind. And faith: There’s just something about the sight of Arnett, Armisen (also vastly underappreciated), and Cooper in full if-Poison-threw-up-on-Mötley-Crüe regalia that makes me giggle uncontrollably. (Further, keep eyes peeled for what might be the most sporting cameo of all time, by Pete Best. Blink and you’ll miss him. I did.)

I don’t know if everyone’ll love The Rocker, but I’m sticking by this one. I saw it at the peak of a stressful week, and it did the trick wonderfully (the first scene is one of the most enjoyable and exuberantly silly bits in recent memory). It is, to paraphrase one character’s take on Wilson’s titular man-child, “sloppy, stupid, and loads of fun.”

And seriously: I dare you not to (at least kind of) like the music. •

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