Rock Star (2001) — Marky Mark goes hair metal

“Your job is to live the fantasy that other people only dream about.”

Drew’s rating: Because when I think “heavy metal,” I think Mark Wahlberg

Drew’s review: As a little kid, more than anything else I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up. I love dinosaurs, and I thought the coolest thing in the world would be to dig up their bones for a living. I studied all the books, I went to museums, I read Jurassic Park 11 times… all the usual stuff. By college my childhood dream had dwindled, but I still went so far as to minor in geology, where a growing realization that I hate rocks, trilobites, and all non-dinosaur aspects of paleontology finally put an end to it. Damn.

But then, I was a nerd. Normal children, on the other hand, dream of being rock stars. And so it is for Chris “Izzy” Cole (Mark Wahlberg), a copier repairman who grew up idolizing heavy metal group Steel Dragon and currently headlines a tribute band. That is, until one day when Izzy receives the call every true rock fan dreams of getting: We find ourselves in need of a new lead singer, mate, and word on the street is you’re a bit of all right… how’d you like the gig, eh?

Before they know it, Izzy and longtime girlfriend Emily (Jennifer Aniston) are fully immersed in the rocker lifestyle, “livin’ the life [he] was born to live.” But as the sex and drugs and rock n’ roll begin to spiral out of control, can a sweet, ordinary relationship hope to survive? Or will they wake up 20 years from now starring in a reality show with their two obnoxious, foul-mouthed brats?

I’ll be honest, this is a movie that came and went with nary a blip on my radar, one I ordinarily never would have seen… except. A while back I started dating some chick who mentioned it as one of her all-time favorite movies, and I decided it would be in the best interest of my getting to second base to watch it with her. Cut to three years later, we’re happily married (and I did eventually get to second, thank you), and the time seems right — by which I mean her birthday’s coming up and I’m cheap — to take another look at what I did eventually come to consider a bit of an undiscovered gem. There might be too many big name actors for it to be considered truly “cult”; but nonetheless, some folks might find Rock Star worth a second look.

The premise, though not especially original, is appealing… we all like to see the everyday guy get thrust into stardom and become a success. But there are way too many movies like that for this one to stand out without more to go on. Luckily, there’s a pretty solid foundation of humor; the writers seemed to want to show how much fun being a rock star could really be, so we get things like racing the Batmobile and the classic rock star prank of gluing everything in a hotel room to the ceiling. Unless you harbor deep-seated animosity toward Friends or Marky Mark, Aniston and Wahlberg are likeable enough leads who handle the roles fairly well… I love their portrayals of wide-eyed geek awe when led through the memorabilia hall of the Dragons’ mansion.

And probably the best performance is Timothy Spall as road manager Mats; he does an impressive job of seeming world-weary, slightly creepy, yet ultimately perhaps the smartest person in the movie. However, the film inevitably does try to turn deep and deliver a parable before it’s over; how well you take it will depend on how much tolerance you have for learning life lessons from B-movies.

But in that vein, I’ll say this: I don’t think any guy reading this can honestly say that some part of him doesn’t long for the rock lifestyle. More money than you know what to do with, behaving however you want with no consequences, sleeping with a half-dozen beautiful women every night… hey, there’s a reason it’s the adolescent fantasy. But I also think there’s a lot of guys out there who, if you reminded them what they’d be giving up — a stable marriage, a normal life, watching their kids grow up — would tell you to take a hike and never look back. If nothing else, Rock Star does a nice job of depicting both the good and the bad… yes, there are incredible, unbelievable perks to being a rock star, but it’s truly not for everyone.

When it comes down to it, it’s hard to deny that Rock Star is a fairly predictable fluff film. There isn’t a lot of deeper meaning, and it’s not meant to drastically change the way you see the world. But it’s a movie that trucks along at a good pace, throws some genuine laughs your way, and ultimately keeps you entertained for an hour and a half. It may not top the list of my favorite movies of all time, but if you’re looking for a rainy day diversion that won’t make you think too hard, you could do a lot worse. Just ask Wahlberg to leave the Funky Bunch at home.

Lissa’s rating: Vanilla is a decent flavor, but not quite chocolate.

Lissa’s review: So you want to be a rock star, huh Marky Mark? I find a certain irony in a guy having to act to become a rock star when he once had a musical (should that be in quotes?) act.

Anyway. We saw Rock Star ages and ages ago, and I meant to review it. Then I read Drew’s review with his confession that he had to watch this movie to get to second, and decided a.) there wasn’t much I could say that could top that and b.) Lady Luck, I’m a bit surprised. I would have put him through Center Stage or Moulin Rogue! or something. But then, it was only second. (Oh, wait. That was Drew’s strategy, not an ultimatum. This makes far more sense.) So yeah, I wasn’t sure I had much to say. Then I pulled an April Fool’s joke a few minutes ago that may or may not have been lame, and figured I’d better pound out a review right now to prove that yes, it was just a joke.

So. Rock Star.

The reason I’d been lazy about writing this review is that the movie is honestly pure vanilla. It doesn’t suck, it’s not amazing, it’s just kind of there. As Drew says, it’s one version of the ultimate fantasy: Chris’s favorite band finds out he’s such a good singer that they hire him to replace the lead singer, and he’s catapulted to immediate fame and fortune and the name Izzy. Fame, fortune, girls, sex, drugs, more fame, more fortune, more girls, some booze, more sex, more drugs… and soon, Marky Mark is finding that all he really wants is the love of a good woman. And I really shouldn’t sound so condescending about that part, because I agree with the film’s basic message. Excess is bad, hooking up with Jennifer Aniston is good. (Well, I don’t really have an opinion about the second part.)

It’s the kind of movie that’s entertaining, but nothing ground-shattering. What you see is what you get. The overall plot arc is predictable, but a few of the twists and turns getting there are at least not completely clichéd. The two main characters are very likeable, and you actually want them to have a good life and live happily ever after. Their relationship isn’t all extremes, but they actually relate like two normal people. And the acting is reasonable, not standing out as brilliant or terrible, but good and solid and all that. (Although I must say that I really enjoyed Timothy Spall as Mats, the rather sleazy but oddly sympathetic manager.)

I think what I enjoyed the most was the way Rock Star showed the difference between on-stage personas and real-life personalities. It’s quite nice to see the “happily ever after” myth of fame and fortune punctured, and I also liked how the movie showed how on-stage and real-life can seem to blend together, but it’s a really, really bad idea in this case. I admit, the way I’m describing it makes it sound very after-school-special — “Chris learns how drugs and orgies are bad!”, but the movie actually had enough subtlety to make it palatable.

There was one thing that drove me nuts though, and it’s a small technical thing. Chris and his girlfriend Emily were caught up in a whirlwind of parties and groupies, yes. And every time they needed to have a private conversation, privacy was impossible to find. I can see this being a problem. So one would pull the other over to a secluded spot and have a conversation in a low tone of voice, with the party going on in the background. I can’t fault the realism there, but I really, really had a hard time understanding what they were saying. They needed to come in closer and have the actors stop mumbling (or I need to get my hearing checked again).

Drew described it as a fairly predictable fluff film, and I think that’s dead on. Nice, sweet, vanilla fluff with some heavy metal mixed in. Enjoy.

Didja notice?

  • I consider it one of my great failings in life that I’ve never seen two cover bands fight in person.
  • Y’know, I’ve gotten my ears pierced three times, but I think I draw the line at my nipple. With a sewing needle. And ice.
  • Almost every member of the various bands seen in the movie are actual musicians. For instance, Chris’s replacement in Blood Pollution is Stephan Jenkins from Third Eye Blind, and their bassist is Brian Vander Ark from the Verve Pipe.
  • Rob’s little smile while watching Chris’s debut is cool… that, despite their fights, he’s genuinely happy for his friend.
  • Ah, one of the profound thoughts of the 20th century: “I need to take a piss.”
  • The film is set in 1985; the ending gives a nod to the beginnings of the grunge movement in Seattle. Dig that flannel!
  • According to Wahlberg, he did most of his own singing, though his voice was “slightly augmented.”

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