In his short career, Mark Wahlberg has been most effective when playing characters full of naïve sincerity. In Boogie Nights, The Yards, and even Three Kings, his talent is in making the audience believe he's a good guy with a lot of heart, just trying his best. That honest hopefulness works well for him in Rock Star, a generally entertaining tale of an 80s heavy metal superfan who suddenly becomes his favorite band's lead singer. The problem with the film lies in director Stephen Herek's inability to take advantage of the strengths that Wahlberg displays.
The story is loosely based on metal icons Judas Priest, who, in 1997, replaced singer Rob Halford with an actual fan (so tell me, how would one actually know if Judas Priest replaced a band member?) Wahlberg, as Steel Dragon fan Chris Cole, is just brimming with dedication -- he works hard as a copy machine repairman, busts his ass in his Steel Dragon cover band, tells his parents he loves them, and has a long relationship with his girlfriend/best friend/manager (Jennifer Aniston, still underrated by Hollywood). After being booted from his band for taking things too seriously, Chris gets a call from the real Steel Dragon, who are interested in his pipes. Just like that, he's the new guy out front.
Herek (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Mr. Holland's Opus), directing a screenplay from crazy/beautiful director John Stockwell, does rely on Wahlberg's sincerity at first -- we easily sympathize with Chris' work ethic and passion -- but doesn't allow it to carry the movie later, when the film could really use it. The story, as expected, heads toward VH-1-land, exposing the excesses of the mid 80s, rock-and-roll lifestyle, including a drug-laden orgy after Chris's first giant gig with the band. From that point on, Rock Star unfortunately takes itself a little too seriously, taking time to document stuff we've already read about (it is a full 15 years later, after all, and hair bands like Motley Crue have been telling these stories for a while).
Rock Star would've been better off as a bigger satire of the time, ripping into the music, the people, and the period, and allowing Wahlberg's wide-eyed, once-in-a-lifetime experiences to anchor the movie's emotional honesty and sympathy. Aniston could have certainly contributed to that; I can't imagine too many people staring into those expressive eyes on the big screen and not empathizing with the woman.
Another weakness lies in our inability to really connect with Chris's initial invitation to join the band. He auditions, he's in, and we're off and running. Where's the scene where he and Aniston are simply flabbergasted by the opportunity, and privately share that elation? That would go a long way in getting us deeper into the characters, but it doesn't happen.
Herek does direct the concert scenes with a certain urgency and is able to capture that arena rock experience, as cool or ridiculous as you might think it is. But as Chris finds his way in the final act, the movie breaks down a bit, more interested in having us feel good than actually being sincere to the story. They should've asked Mark Wahlberg about sincerity -- he knows how it should work.
The DVD features a commentary from Herek -- usual making-of stuff about Spandex and near beer -- plus a lame promo documentary and an Everclear video.