The Rocker

(2008) ** Pg-13
102 min. Fox Atomic. Director: Peter Cattaneo. Cast: Rainn Wilson, Christina Applegate, Jeff Garlin, Josh Gad, Emma Stone.


In the new comedy The Rocker, a 42-year-old man stares at a 19-year-old and says with disdain, "Don't be so mature." It's the kind of irony we've been programmed to expect these days, as umpteen mainstream comedies ask the question "What if Peter Pan were a loser?" Rainn Wilson (The Office) gets his first starring vehicle in The Rocker, which is utterly predictable, formulaic, but not entirely unamusing.

Wilson plays Cleveland drummer Robert “Fish” Fishman, the Pete Best of heavy metal. After being dumped by his bandmates (Will Arnett, Fred Armisen, and Bradley Cooper), who go on to mega-fame as hair-band "Vesuvius," Fish is consigned to years of drone-like office work. When even that dries up, he tucks his tail between his legs and moves in with his sister’s family. Fish's nephew (Josh Gad) recruits him into the garage band A.D.D., comprised of Curtis (actual recording artist Teddy Geiger) and Amelia (Emma Stone of Superbad). Thanks to YouTube, A.D.D. takes off, leading to an inevitable confrontation with Vesuvius.

This respectable but uninspired star vehicle for Wilson makes good use of his over-intense comic demeanor, and he's decent at the slapstick regularly thrown his way (though the running gag about his body falling apart is a non-starter).Wilson is supported by familiar faces (Jane Lynch and Jeff Garlin, as his sister and brother-in-law, Jason Sudeikis as a sleazy agent, and Jane Krakowski, in one scene, as his ex-girlfriend). For rock cred, there's the Cleveland setting (from the Agora to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Q Arena), a cameo by Best, and one-time "Johnny Fever" Howard Hesseman, though the funniest five minutes belong to stand-up Dimitri Martin as a crackpot music-video director in the vein of Spike Jonze.

Sad-sack-makes-good specialist Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) makes it clear from the first scenes that reality is not a priority (Fish, on foot, chases down a speeding van, then walks away from an accident). Romance is on the table, with Curtis' mother; Christina Applegate brings welcome presence to the nothing part. By severing ties with reality and embracing a hackneyed story structure, Cattaneo puts a greater pressure on the movie to be just plain funny, which it is only in fits and starts. The Rocker gets by on its comic talent and surprisingly pleasant music (written by Chad Fischer and performed by up-and-comer Geiger), but it’s the sort of movie destined to be remembered only because it never goes away, cycling on cable TV for eternity.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Street date: 1/27/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox keeps the beat alive with its Blu-ray "'Born to Rock' Edition" of The Rocker. Loaded up with added value, the movie becomes a better bet than it was in theaters. A fine A/V transfer makes the most of the source material: the film looks just as it did in theaters: colors are true to the film's design, detail is very good, and grain is limited and natural. A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track assures that we don't miss a beat of the film's all-important music (and slapstick sound effects).

The special edition kicks off with an entertaining commentary by director Peter Cattaneo and actor Rainn Wilson. Wilson is typically droll, and he and Cattaneo play off each other well while sharing the details of the project's development and lensing. They also tell tales out of school about what made the studio nervous about the first day of filming: a boring set and a Wilson performance they thought lacked energy. A second commentary--with actors Josh Gad, Teddy Geiger, Emma Stone and Jason Sudeikis--isn't quite as informative, but at least Sudeikis is on hand to offset the bland young folk with an infusion of comedic skills.

The featurettes get off to a bad start with two pieces showcasing the unfunny Gad. "MTV Panel" (5:51, SD) is a thuddingly laughless comedy piece with the premise that Josh Gad is supposed to participate by satellite in a post-screening Q&A but can't be heard. I would have much preferred to hear the uninterrupted panel. "Matt Gags" (2:35, SD) features Gad's unfunny outtakes from the dinner scene.

Now we're talking: next up are four highly amusing Podcasts (11:05 with "Play All" option): "Maya Angelou," "Giuseppe," "Reunion" and "London." These feature Wilson "hosting" a show called "Book Chat," with Slash as his guest.

There are also comical moments in the six "Deleted Scenes" (16:11, SD with "Play All" option): "Rainn & Pete Best," "Taking the Drums Out of Storage," "Pre-Show Jitters & Fish Puke," "Hotel Clerk & Fish Orgy," "Fish Arrested in Hotel Lobby" and "Golden Fish, Ambulance, 'Look at You.'" The long "Gag Reel" (9:49, SD) doesn't much pay off, but the inclusion is always welcome all the same.

"Vesuvius Gags" (4:08) features outtakes of Will Arnett, Fred Armisen and Bradley Cooper in the Vesuvius van. The featurette "Pete Best Interview" (6:44, SD) includes comments from Cattaneo, Wilson, Jane Lynch, Christina Applegate, writer Ryan Jaffe, producers Tom McNulty and Shawn Levy, and, of course, the infamous near-Beatle Best. The brief but quite funny "Vesuvius Public Service Announcements" (1:11, SD) is definitely worth a spin.

"Rainn Wilson: Office Rocker" (3:31, SD) is a one-joke short about how everyone hounds Wilson about his TV gig on hit show The Office. Wilson, Gad, Sudeikis, Armisen, Applegate, Lynch, Arnett, Geiger, Aziz Ansari, Jane Krakowski, Jeff Garlin and Lonny Ross turn up.

The mockumentary short "Behind the Band" (2:41, SD) is a promo for a profile of Vesuvius, while "Rock Tales" (6:21, SD) allows cast and crew to talk about their real-life brushes with rock (a few being tall tales). Garlin, Gad, Stone, Ross, Wilson, Armisen, Lynch, Sudeikis, Cooper, Cattaneo, Arnett, Geiger, Best, Levy, Applegate, and Johnathan Glaser participate.

"Rock Beat with the Fish" (2:31, SD) is a mockumentary report on Fish, and the "'I'm Not Bitter' Music Video" (2:48, SD) is self-explanatory. "Fox Movie Channel Presents In Character with...Rainn Wilson as 'Fish': The Rocker" (2:15, SD) is a swift promo.

Last but far from least is "The Music" (11:15, SD), which turns out to be the most substantial of all the featurettes. It's a look at the thinking behind the film's music, from conception to casting (especially the choice of recording artist Geiger). Interviewees include Cattaneo, Geiger, Gad, Stone, Wilson, Cooper, Ross, Arnett, Armisen, McNulty, Levy, music supervisor Patrick Houlihan, composer Chad Fischer, and drum coach Stuart Johnson.

Disc Two houses a , and what better moDigital Copyvie to play on your iPod? Don't answer that. But seriously, fans of The Rocker will certainly be pleased with this definitive special edition, especially on a Blu-ray that offers the definitive presentation of the film.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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