Behold the power of Judd Apatow! After his directorial success with The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) and Knocked Up (2007), and all the goodwill he’s somehow managed to yank from simply producing Superbad, it seems that anything blessed by Mr. Apatow (who, in this case, cowrote the film) is serious business. Why else would Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story—100 minutes of John C. Reilly doing his best to cement himself as the poor man’s Will Ferrell—somehow be lauded by critics (it has a 77 percent approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site)? I guess these same critics seem to have forgotten that Apatow also wrote the dreadful Fun With Dick and Jane (2005).
The concept is simple. Take Reilly, turn him into fictional rock star Dewey Cox, and follow his life story, all in an attempt to parody films like Ray (2004) and Walk the Line (2005). All the conventions of the musical biopic are there, from the early, haunting tragedy—in this case, a young Dewey (Conner Rayburn) accidentally cutting his brother in half)—to the tough home life, to a “crippling” disability (Dewey has no sense of smell), to the eventual drug abuse. And this might be the film’s biggest problem. Since all its bases are covered, the jokes are as obvious as they come. It’s almost as if the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 watched Walk the Line, then all the wise they cracked was written down and made into a movie. When the script isn’t smacking you over the head with how clever and observant it thinks it is, it’s running jokes into the ground faster than Reilly can say “I was in a Scorsese flick? Two of them?” (like Dewey’s penchant for ripping sinks out of walls over and over and over again when he’s angry).
Which brings us to Reilly, who’s apparently stopped trying to trick people into thinking he’s a serious actor, and has instead relegated himself to doing movies that’d feel more at home on Saturday Night Live. Sure, Walk Hard never sinks to the depths of parodies like Epic Movie or The Comebacks, but you’d need a HAZMAT suit and a hepatitis vaccination to slum that low. It’s not too far removed, however, since instead of shots to the groin and fart jokes, the film is yet another example of the “random” wackiness popularized by Anchorman (2004) and the like—with all the ham-fisted antics such a film entails. I halfway expected Reilly to start elbowing me in the ribs and ask, “Do you get it?! Huh?! Did you see what I did there?!” Take the film’s inclusion of a surprise bit of frontal male nudity of the gentile persuasion (the “graphic nudity” in the film’s rating). There’s no setup and no real punch line. Instead, the simple sight of a penis is conceivably supposed to cause juvenile fits of laughing, or at least, it would seem, pointing and giggling. Welcome to comedy in the year 2007.
What the makers of Walk Hard don’t seem to realize is that to make a proper parody, more needs to be done than simply pointing out the genre’s flaws and basically saying “Hey, this is a cliché!” Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, which came out earlier this year, was a movie first, with such foreign concepts as including an actual plot and likable characters—and a spoof second. Hot Fuzz managed to take what it was making fun of (action movies), build a comedy on top of that, while at the same time managing to be one of the best pieces of action filmmaking to come out this year. Not only that, Hot Fuzz has an actual affinity for what it’s poking fun at (even if that affinity includes Bad Boys 2 (2003)) as opposed to the holier-than-thou attitude that permeates Walk Hard. Actually, just go rent Hot Fuzz. Sure, there’s no graphic nudity, but sometimes that’s the price we must pay. Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language.