Could someone sponsor a telethon for the spoof? This comedy genre has given us classics like Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” (which brilliantly skewered the Western) and “Young Frankenstein” (classic horror movies), not to mention the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker classic “Airplane!” which single-handedly destroyed the disaster movie until Jerry Bruckheimer brought it back to life with “Armageddon.”
Lately, the spoof has fallen on hard times with stinkers like “Epic Movie” and “Farce of the Penguins.” It is, perhaps, difficult to keep gags afloat for 90 minutes when a show like “Robot Chicken” can smartly satirize all six “Star Wars” movies in 22 minutes, and the strain of keeping the plates spinning definitely shows in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” which starts out brilliantly playing with the tired tropes of musical biopics before utterly losing its way.
“Walk the Line” seems to be the main template for japery here, from the artist’s childhood tragedy (young Dewey accidentally chops his gifted, perfect brother in half with a machete) to his unfulfilling first marriage (Kristen Wiig, as Dewey’s first wife, ends every phone conversation with a reminder to her husband that he’s going to fail) to his desire for his singing partner (Jenna Fischer from “The Office,” channeling Reese Witherspoon) to his drug-fueled decline and eventual comeback.
While the film covers a vast array of musical genres, none of the songs are particularly funny in the way that, say, the oeuvre of Spinal Tap is. And by the time Dewey (John C. Reilly) is a washed-up talk show host in the late ’70s, it’s clear that “Walk Hard” doesn’t really know what it’s making fun of anymore. And without a clear framework for its satire, there’s not enough going on for the film to operate well on any other level.
Reilly is a gifted comic actor — he all but steals “Talladega Nights” from Will Ferrell — and his deadpan goofiness fits him well here. Unfortunately, he wears out his welcome (he’s in virtually every scene in the film), which is mostly the fault of co-writer and director Jake Kasdan (“The TV Set”), who no doubt had a bulletin board’s worth of funny ideas for the character but ultimately fails to keep the laughs coming.
Perhaps because their roles are more focused, it’s the supporting cast that really shines here, particularly Wiig and fellow “Saturday Night Live” cast members Tim Meadows and Chris Parnell (the latter two playing members of Dewey’s band), as well as Raymond J. Barry as Dewey’s dad, whose constant refrain throughout life is “Wrong son died.”
If “Walk Hard” adds anything to film history, it will be for its unabashed use of full-frontal male nudity for comedic value. In a year when movies like “Beowulf” and “Death at a Funeral” bent over backwards to keep men’s genitals hidden, the outrageous and explicit man-parts in “Walk Hard” may just open the floodgates on one of Hollywood’s last taboos.