"The Rocker" might really have rocked if it didn't feel like a cover of a couple of superior comedies.
The first and most obvious is "School of Rock." As a shlumpy, 40ish drummer who missed his shot at heavy metal stardom, Rainn Wilson is pretty much channeling Jack Black here: the volatile man-child outbursts, the intensely pure feelings about rock music, even some of the crazy eyeball stuff feels way too familiar. And Wilson's character, Robert "Fish" Fishman, similarly gets a chance at redemption when he hooks up with a high school band that unexpectedly finds itself on the rise.
But there are also plenty of elements of "This Is Spinal Tap," one of the greatest musical comedies ever. Twenty years ago, Fish played drums for the up-and-coming Cleveland hair band Vesuvius, but the other members (led by Will Arnett in leopard-print tights, eyeliner and shaggy, blond hair) cast him aside to secure a record deal. Everything about the parody of this type of metal is very Tap-esque, from the gaudy clothes and cheesy songs to the on-stage explosions and offstage egos.
There was some seriously bad music in the mid-1980s, much of which rears its ugly head in "The Rocker." (Though the use of Europe's overplayed anthem "The Final Countdown" does feel relevant in context.)
Nevertheless, Wilson has an engaging, goofy energy about him, as does the movie itself — for the most part. Peter Cattaneo, who earned an Academy Award nomination for directing "The Full Monty," brings some of the same unabashed, let's-put-on-a-show vibe of that 1997 British-American film.
Having long ago given up his dreams of stardom — but hanging onto the ponytail and sideburns just in case — Fish now works as a drone answering calls at a customer service center. Once he gets fired and moves in with his sister (Jane Lynch) and her family, he receives an unexpected request. His insecure, heavyset nephew, Matt (the shy, likable Josh Gad), asks him to play the prom with his high-school band when the drummer drops out at the last minute.
Fish struggles with the decision (and, in the process, repeatedly bangs his head on the ceiling of the attic where he's sleeps, a bit of a tired gag from the start) but eventually gives in and joins A.D.D., as they're known. The other two members are sullen, sarcastic bassist Amelia (Emma Stone from "Superbad," who nabs some of the wittiest lines) and pretty-boy lead singer and guitarist Curtis (Teddy Geiger), whose downer lyrics spring from his childhood abandonment issues.
It's all pretty predictable stuff from there. After a rough start at the prom, where Fish unleashes his inner Neil Peart with a raucous solo during Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," A.D.D. experiences a meteoric rise, thanks to a viral YouTube video. Wilson, co-star of TV's "The Office" — who is never shy about showing off his pasty bod — finds himself doing the full monty here for a protracted laugh.
There is, of course, the obligatory montage as the group records its first album, shoots its first music video, goes on tour and experiences the thrill of groupies. Eventually, they argue but there's never any doubt that they will reconcile. Fish, meanwhile, stays drunk nearly the whole time, now that he finally has a chance to live out his fantasies 20 years later. (And the fact that it's been 20 years since Vesuvius dumped him is mentioned so many times, it could be a drinking game itself.)
Christina Applegate brings realism and smarts to the role of Curtis' mom, who hops on the tour bus to make sure the kids are safe, and Jason Sudeikis is appropriately smarmy as A.D.D.'s slick manager.
What is a surprise, though, is how tame the music is: A.D.D.'s songs are catchy and poppy and completely innocuous, like something you might hear on Radio Disney. For a guy who used to eat metal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Fish should demand that the group rock a little harder. Audiences should demand that of this movie, too.