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WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Tim Meadows, Kristen Wig
Director:  Jake Kasdan
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  See Review
Length:  96 Minutes (Theatrical), 120 Minutes (Unrated)
Release Date:  April 8, 2008

“Mr. Cox?…Mr. Cox?…Guys, I need Cox…”


Film **

If there was ever a genre ripe to be spoofed, it’s the music biopic.  In fact, three of my favorite films of the new millennium all fall in that category:  Ray, Walk the Line and La Vie En Rose.  So if you start with a style of film that’s very familiar, take a great star like John C. Reilly, direction by Jake Kasdan and a script co-written by comedy master Judd Apatow, you have all the ingredients for a hysterically good time.

But Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story is mostly hit-and-miss.  Most of the hit part comes early.  I haven’t laughed so hard in a while as I did during the first fifteen minutes of this picture.  It tells the story of young Dewey Cox and his much more apt brother, the unbelievable accident that leaves Dewey without said brother, and Dewey’s start in the music business at fourteen (but still played by Reilly), where he plays the most innocuous 50s style pop song at a high school talent show and it causes girls to tear their clothes off and the town folk to get riled up about ‘devil music’.  Funny stuff!

Yet the rest of the movie never quite lives up to that promising start.  Dewey Cox follows the typical path to stardom and destruction, and meets and shares the scenes with a lot of legends, including Buddy Holly, Elvis and The Beatles.  He dabbles in all the musical stylings of the eras, including punk, protest music, dance and so on, dabbles in drugs (“you don’t want none of this, man…it’s WEED!”), marries, divorces, rips a lot of sinks out of walls, falls in love again, and so on, right all the way to the lifetime achievement award at the end.

The glue that holds it together, however sloppily, is the earnest performance by John C. Reilly.  He proved in Chicago he had a capable voice, and sings with gusto as Dewey Cox, with a group of songs he even mostly co-wrote.  He seems comfortable in any genre, mimicking some of the great voices of the past forty years, and even handles a guitar believably well.

I just feel like there were more laughs that could have been had with this material, and some attempts at laughs that fell embarrassingly flat, and should have been re-worked.  Dewey Cox going to India to learn meditation with The Beatles had so much possibility, but it plays out like a college-level improvisation exercise.  It never builds into or out of everything.  It’s as though the filmmakers thought the premise itself was the gag and didn’t need any nurturing.

From what I’ve heard, John C. Reilly has done live appearances on stage as the character, and that might be worth the price of a ticket.  He ends up the most capable and stalwart aspect of an otherwise unfocused comedy.  Maybe left to do his magic on his own, he’d prove rock and roll dreams still do come true.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Lyle Lovett, Jewel, Jackson Browne and Eddie Vedder show up as themselves, and keep an eye out for cameos from Frankie Muniz (Buddy Holly), Jack White (Elvis) and Jack Black (Paul McCartney).

BONUS TRIVIA II:  Watch to the end of the credits to see the "real" Dewey Cox.

Video ***

This is a mostly good anamorphic transfer from Sony…the only trouble spots are some darker scenes where definition gets a bit murky and there’s more grain and compression evident.  But overall, it offers good colors and contrast, though it doesn’t really strive for period feels as much as I would have hoped.

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack is forceful and dynamic…I just wish the songs sounded a little better.  In many of Dewey’s numbers, I had a hard time making out his words against the bed of music.  A little fine tuning could have made this one of the year’s great listens.

Features ****

This double disc edition is quite loaded, starting with the ability to choose either the theatrical cut or a longer unrated version of the movie.  There’s a commentary from Jake Kasdan, co-writer Judd Apatow, John C. Reilly and Lew Murton that runs on both versions, but it gets occasionally truncated in the shorter version.  Still a good listen

That’s disc one…the second disc features 8 full song performances, song demos, 9 deleted/extended scenes, a making-of featurette, a Cox sausage commercial with outtakes, a Christmas song from Dewey Cox, a look at the music and the “real” Dewey Cox, a trip through your favorite lines, and some previews.  

There’s also a couple of featurettes on how they did the scene with the bull (and I’m talking about the animal), casting a certain role based on…um, anatomy, and “The Last Word”, an interview program specializing in doing last interviews with stars before they kick featuring Dewey Cox.

Summary:

Walk Hard should have walked the line, but like a drunk driver stopped by the cop, it meanders all over the place and ranges from hysterically funny to painfully obtuse.  John C. Reilly delivers the music and a solidifying central performance, but there are sequences where you can’t help but muse that it can only go so far.

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