**½/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras C+
starring Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston, Dominic West, Timothy Spall
screenplay by John Stockwell
directed by Stephen Herek
by Walter Chaw Stephen Herek's return to the realm of dope-head fantasy (his second and perhaps most remembered film is Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) gets off to a smashing start. For a brief, exhilarating time, he captures all the dim-witted exuberance, all the pathological pride, all the explosive machismo of long-haired, tight-leathered cock-rock bands and the symbiotic relationship they have with fans, who revere them as greasy, gyrating lizard kings. Once it becomes another tired cautionary tale of sex, drugs, and rock n' roll, however, Rock Star turns off the amps and coasts home like a rusted-out DeSoto running on fumes.
It occurred to me pretty early on that Herek's Rock Star and Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous are actually the same film. Both are based on true stories, both have as their protagonists outsiders who briefly become insiders, both have simplistic moralizations about knowing what's really important amidst the hedonistic excesses, and each is ultimately a lot less than it should have been because it doesn't really have a solid point of view. Granted, Rock Star falls short of Almost Famous because Crowe's love letter to his own idealized youth is full of wise moments (and tight narrative cohesion) and has Frances McDormand and Jason Lee in supporting roles.
The names have been changed to protect the not-very-innocent. In the early '90's, British metal stalwarts Judas Priest jettisoned their lead singer Rob Halford after he came out of the closet, and replaced him with a loser tribute-band frontman named Tim "Ripper" Owens. In Rock Star, Tim "Ripper" Owens becomes Chris "Izzy" Cole (Mark Wahlberg), Judas Priest is Steel Dragon, Akron has turned into Pittsburgh, and the metal-anaemic '90's has been replaced by the metal-booming '80's. But the basics of the big hair fairytale remain intact, from serendipitous telephone call to brief ride at the top to happy, mushy ending. With all the potential for a juicy, insightful, "Behind the Music"-style rise-fall-rise rags-to-riches-to-rags docudrama, it's something of a disappointment that Rock Star is so familiar and, for a good portion of the second half, lacklustre and disinterested. The biggest mistake Rock Star makes is departing from high-spirited, if mild, satire to embrace exhausted tropes.
Mark Wahlberg is fantastic in reprising the same sort of moron with a gift that he portrayed in Boogie Nights. His boyish good looks and transparent face are perfect for a character who is essentially Chauncy Gardner, thrust into a confusing situation bigger than he while content to just tend the roses. (I suspect that this is Wahlberg's most comfortable type of character for a reason.) Jennifer Aniston is woefully miscast as a young groupie/manager, but the Steel Dragon players, made up of real-life rock stars such as Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde and son-of-John Jason Bonham, are convincing as drug-taking, groupie-scrogging rockers--no Jason Lee disgruntled guitarist here to steal the show, mind you.
And that's just fine. Rock Star isn't about breaking new ground nor being ambiguous-- the film is a mass-approved, feel-good fiction set in a moment nostalgic for most in a living generation's timeline (see again Almost Famous) that has been stripped of challenge and nuance in favour of easy uplift and stock characters. Though it's easy to cast stones at what resolves itself to be a by-the-numbers Star is Born sort of foolishness, it's impossible to entirely dislike a film that successfully fashions a nasty tumble down a flight of stairs (and the resultant gushing head wound) into a moment of triumph, warmth, and laughter. Rock Star is unoriginal and artless, but it's no worse than the chart-pleasing rock anthems and robotic bands that inspired it. On second thought, I guess that's not exactly a glowing recommendation, is it? Originally published: September 7, 2001.
by Bill Chambers Warner Home Video's DVD version of Rock Star is rad in the image department. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is sensational. Neither edge-enhancement nor artifacts are ever an issue, though contrast is spotty, lacking in rich blacks on occasion. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix is a bit of a disappointment, if not unexpectedly so: hair metal tends to not have much sonic depth; and very rarely does the music reach into the surrounds. The concert sequences do distribute crowd noise nicely, and "Izzy"'s Batmobile provides some racket in the subwoofer. Extras include a 5-minute promotional featurette from New Wave Entertainment, cast and crew filmographies, the original theatrical trailer, and a diverting screen-specific commentary from director Herek in which generously he alerts us to possible Jennifer Aniston nudity. Originally published: January 24, 2002.