Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A mopey emo kid, a goth girl and a plus-size nerd boy need a drummer for their band. As luck would have it, the nerd’s uncle was once the drummer for a metal hair band, that is up until he got screwed out of his shot at the big time on the eve of that band’s big breakthrough, and … oh, you have heard this before—or something very like it. Well, in that case, there’s probably not much reason for you to sit through the reasonably painless mediocrity of The Rocker, unless you simply must witness a singularly ill-advised attempt to turn Rainn Wilson into a movie star. I would advise against it.
Rainn Wilson has achieved some degree of popularity on TV’s The Office, but his big-screen work has been unremarkable. From his thankless meat-on-the-hoof victim role in House of 1000 Corpses (2003) to his oversexed man-boy in My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006) to his new-age nebbish in The Last Mimzy (2007) to his truly annoying drugstore clerk in Juno (2007), nothing has really suggested star power. The Rocker continues this pattern—and perhaps concludes it, based on the apparent box-office apathy that’s greeted it. I gladly concede that the film manages to make the previously irritating Wilson marginally palatable, but that’s not the same thing as making him a star. Generally speaking, people go to the movies to be entertained. Not being annoyed is hardly sufficient reason to pony up eight-plus bucks.
Apart from too much setup—and one that is too broadly played—and the movie’s inability to stick to aspects of its basic premise, there’s nothing all that wrong with The Rocker. It’s just that it’s ordinary to a spectacular degree—and feels way too much like something Will Ferrell and Jack Black turned down. The idea of a late-in-the-day chance for a failed rock star is OK. That he might accidentally make the band a sensation when footage of him drumming in the nude finds its way to YouTube is almost clever (if Will Ferrell can display his less-than-enticing flesh, why not Wilson?). It would help, however, if this novelty aspect of the band’s sudden success weren’t completely forgotten the minute they sign a record deal. (For that matter, it would help if the script could decide whether the band has a manager or a rep from the record company.) But I suppose the less footage given over to Wilson au natural the better.
The script lurches through all the anticipated permutations of its genre. Will there be troubles within the band? Will there be complications resulting from a 40-ish rocker touring with three underage kids? Will everyone learn some kind of valuable lesson? Will Wilson’s character get his shot at revenge on his former bandmates who did him dirt all those years ago? Will the emo boy find joy? Will the goth girl smile? Will the nerd hook up with a girl? Will Woodrow Wilson make the world safe for democracy? All right, so that last question is unaddressed, but you may be sure the rest are explored with predictable tenacity.
On the plus side, Emma Stone (Superbad) is quite good as gloomy goth girl. Christina Applegate brings much more appeal to her role as the mother of the emo boy than is actually afforded by the script. And Wilson—apart from a couple gross-out gags involving puke and his propensity to sweat, looking like he’s been standing too near Niagara Falls—is remarkably inoffensive. But none of this provides sufficient reason to actually see the movie. Rated PG-13 for drug and sexual references, nudity and language.