Mark Wahlberg couldn't be more perfect for the role of Chris Cole, "Rock Star's" head-bangin' hair band wannabe whose singular ambition in life is to be e-x-a-c-t-l-y like the shirtless, leather-clad, pelvis-thrusting, high note-shrieking lead singer of the heavy metal band Steel Dragon.
He looks absolutely vintage, sporting metalhead tresses and screwing up his face in imitation sneers. He revels in Cole's absurdly passionate perfectionism in fronting a Steel Dragon "tribute band" and embraces Cole's humorously inconsequential real life as an on-call Xerox technician who still lives with his parents.
He belts out the tunes of the fictitious Steel Dragon with amazing range and the earnestness of an insanely zealous fan -- so much so that while in the front row at a Steel Dragon concert he rather unnerves his hero by loudly singing along with more gusto than the man himself can muster.
And when Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng, "Snatch") leaves the band and -- almost unbelievably -- Chris Cole is tapped out of nowhere by the rock'n'roll gods to replace him, Wahlberg captures with amazing amplitude an entire spectrum of emotions that play across his face when he steps out on stage for his first concert.
This story isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. It's loosely based on Tim "Ripper" Owens, the real-life mad-dog Judas Priest devotee from Ohio who replaced Rob Halford after he split the band in 1993. Writer John Stockwell (who just directed "crazy/beautiful") simply took the facts to an entertainingly fictional apex full of stock rock antics and stadium shows.
"Rock Star" opens as a bit of a tongue-in-cheek affair, featuring comedic moments in which Wahlberg poses in front of his bedroom mirror, takes a ration of belittling from his square older brother (a cop and a mama's boy) and gets into fisticuffs with a rival Steel Dragon cover band. More incidental laughs come from the fact that the film takes place in the 1980s and all that implies.
Because Cole takes imitating Steel Dragon so very, very seriously, he soon gets himself kicked out of his own band for being a pain in the butt. Then comes that fateful phone call. Two groupies who frequent Cole's parroting performances gave Steel Dragon's guitarist (Dominic West, "28 Days") a videotape that landed him an audition to replace Beers, who's been kicked out of the band just as unceremoniously as Cole was booted from his own.
Unfortunately, this is exactly where "Rock Star" begins to falter. Director Stephen Herek (doing penance for "Holy Man") jumps, in a single editing swipe, from Cole's audition straight into his first concert in front of a huge live audience. The movie is packed with unnecessary montages. But when one is really needed to show Cole getting to know the band, rehearsing, etc., we get absolutely nothing.
From here on out, the movie is all hard-rockin' stage footage (the music isn't bad for imitation '80s hair metal) and funny rock clichés (AquaNet-ed bimbos throwing themselves at our hero) -- except when Herek conspicuously pauses for VH-1 "Behind the Music"-style, aww-poor-rock-star plot developments involving Cole's growing neglect of his devoted girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston).
Ironically, such scenes play like "Rock Star" is itself a wannabe, angling for "Almost Famous"-like fairy-tale rock scene affection. The result is an overly sincere attempt to shoehorn artificial depth into the cartoony metalheads and pat conflict into a just-for-fun storyline that is better off without that kind of shash.
Several other nit-picky problems arise throughout the course of the picture. Plot points that were on the hackneyed side anyway are left dangling in the rush to move the story along. Herek can't seem to stop shooting in gratuitous slow-motion, and the closing credit outtakes are often more entertaining than the movie that precedes them. (In one, the crew plays a joke on Wahlberg by cueing up a tune from his Marky Mark white-boy rapper days while shooting a concert scene).
But throughout it all there's Wahlberg, giving his best performance since "Boogie Nights" and looking so much like a metal god (which, by the way, was the movie's original title) that he doesn't even look silly going shirtless for most of the picture.
An actor who can really absorb himself into a character when he's well directed, Wahlberg never lets Cole come off like a chump for following his dream, even though he is amusingly ardent about this obsession with emulating somebody else. He drives home an amazing array of emotions in that aforementioned first concert scene, running through concentration, trepidation, confidence, disbelief, exhalation, and a slate of other feelings with the most subtle of facial registers. In a matching scene a year later, he's grown weary and disinterested, and manages to portray those feelings while still rallying the fans.
It's a pity "Rock Star" takes its predictable little story arc so seriously because Wahlberg had me smiling all the way through.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Friday 7th September 2001
Box Office Worldwide: $17M
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Bel Air Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Stephen Herek
Starring: Mark Wahlberg as Chris 'Izzy' Cole, Jennifer Aniston as Emily Poule, Jason Flemyng as Bobby Beers, Dominic West as Kirk Cuddy, Jason Bonham as A.C., Zakk Wylde as Ghode, Jeff Pilson as Jorgen, Timothy Olyphant as Rob Malcolm, Beth Grant as Mrs Cole
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