Review: Rock and roll humor drives “Walk”

“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” is a piece of sophisticated trash—a skillful, well produced comedy that employs racial stereotypes, casual sex, and anatomical display (reconfirming the unsightly nature of male genitalia), all in the service of the story. And what a story.

At the very heart of this hilarious telling lie some very sad truths. As it so often goes in catharsis comedy, the deeper the pain, the greater the laugh and “Walk Hard” earns some big guffaws.

Think of Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) as the personification of rock and roll, a selective recall of every cliché, stereotype, and dead-on truth assigned to a genre of music that as musicianNeil Young sang, “can never die.”

Such immortality however does not rule out changes and with each one, from suburban Pat Boone ballads to gangsta rap, Dewey mutates.

The screenplay comes from producer/writer Judd Apatow (“Superbad,” “Knocked Up”) for whose fans the pleasure of deciphering the subtle is far surpassed by the shock of disbelief.

Every bit has a neon sign saying, “This is the joke and we’re going to make it funny”, a claim they boldly deliver on even if they have to go raunchy; a strategy this production team has little reluctance in employing.

With rock and roll, outrageous is the norm, so Apatow for the most part doesn’t have to exaggerate, but of course he does.

The curtain rises on a young Dewey in the impoverished south, begging his older brother, a child prodigy, to take a break from his music. He looks on wistfully, as Nate ferociously knocks out a rendition of Chopin’s Prelude in G minor on a rickety old whore-house piano.

The two head for the barn where a game of machete fencing goes awry. Nate ends up severed at the waist, the scene serving notice of ‘what a long strange trip” this rock and roll saga will be.

With his upper torso having landed erect, Nate, his life fading, looks up at his brother and without rancor or blame asks Dewey to carry the torch for them both.

Thus Dewey joins the modern age by picking up emotional baggage and then the guitar—the blues and a way to sing them. He’s thereby set for a journey of song and sordidness.

The musician and his band tour from town to town, woman to woman and decade to decade— a cavalcade of musical styles, social trends and of course, more than a sampling of the drugs that slip in and out of vogue.

Reilly, who worked with Apatow on “Talledega Nights”, has apparently found an appreciation of the moviemaker’s peculiar interpretation of the world. Intheir second comedy together, he serves as the proverbial glue holding this whimsical melodrama together, bringing continuity to freely meandering mirth.

He often plays the straight man, his character bright in talent and dim in wit –a willing and gullible slave to his environment, subject to the captivation of the seductive beats of oversexed Negroes, the guidance of Jewish managers, and the spiritual advice of rich musicians (The Beatles) looking for overnight enlightenment.

There’s a darkness to Apatow’s humor in “Walk Hard” as there was in “Superbad,” a cynicism that harkens back to his days as producer of “Freaks and Geeks.” His characters party hard, but they don’t have a good time– alienated males at the edge, desperate for affection.

These tales find popularity with a particular audience that could care less about the requisite Hollywood endings. It’s the contemptuous undertone at the core that resonates–kinda like rock and roll.

Grade: B-

Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com. Read all of Examiner's movie critics.

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