Career Encore: The Office’s Rainn Wilson gets a second chance to be a drummer in The Rocker.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
In everyone’s life, there comes a time when– for the sake of his sanity and long-term happiness– he must come to terms with his place in the world. The high school football second-stringer must understand that college glory will never come; the college bench-warmer must make peace with never making the pros.
There’s “keeping the dream alive” and then there’s misguided anger at that one coach who screwed you over, and the line between them can be a thin one indeed.
The new comedy The Rocker revolves around a character having trouble surrendering youthful dreams of fame that have been hacked to death yet, zombie-like, refuse to die. The Office’s Rainn Wilson plays Rob “Fish” Fishman, who was playing in the mid-’80s with hair-metal band Vesuvius but was booted out just before they became megastars. Twenty years later, a still-bitter Fish bounces from menial job to menial job, and lives with his sister (Jane Lynch) and her family. So it’s only natural that when his nephew Matt (Josh Gad) and Matt’s high school bandmates lose their drummer before the big prom gig, Fish would be asked to step in– and, when the band begins to gain momentum, tries to live the rock star party life that once was denied him.
The Rocker’s flashback opening includes a surreally goofy sequence involving the jilted Fish’s Terminator-style pursuit of his now-ex-bandmates in Vesuvius, effectively setting up his tenacious hold on what he believes was denied him. In fits and starts, the supporting cast provides plenty of big laughs, many of them from Gad– think of a slightly more morose Jonah Hill– and Jason Sudeikis as a motor mouthed music industry executive.
But the fact that the supporting cast stands out in retrospect points to what doesn’t work about The Rocker: Its center is too flimsy. Wilson’s trying to channel the kind of ferocious sense of entitlement that fueled Jack Black’s performance in The School of Rock, but he hasn’t got that undefinable “it” that allows an actor to carry a comedy. Even the movie constructed around him seems to understand his limitations, as the focus regularly drifts to the puppy-dog would-be romance between two other teen band members (Emma Stone and Teddy Geiger). The bit players overshadow the “star” because as talented as Wilson is in a specific context, he is a bit player, playing dress-up as a leading man.
THE ROCKER (2½) Directed by Peter Cattaneo. • Starring Rainn Wilson, Emma Stone and Christina Applegate. • PG-13, 102 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Lighthouse Cinemas, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.