Mini-review: Walk Hard

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THE PLANK DECEMBER 21, 2007

Mini-review: Walk Hard

Last week, it was director Jason Reitman (son of Ivan)
opening his movie Juno. This week,
it’s Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence)
opening Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
When did Hollywood become
so entirely Coppolaized? I half expect to check out the coming attractions and
discover offerings by Alex Scorcese, Little Tommy Tarantino, and the Scott
cousins.

 

Happily, while Walk
Hard is no Juno, neither is it
anything likely to inspire the passage of anti-nepotism legislation. The story
begins, like all tales of transcendent musical genius, with the death of a
brother. Rural piano prodigy Nate Cox is practicing a concerto when his
six-year-old sibling Dewey lures him out to play. “Today’s going to be the best
day ever,” Dewey exults. “Yeah, ain’t nothing horrible going to happen today,”
adds Nate. The two engage in typical boyish hijinks such as welding and
rattlesnake-handling, before Nate has an idea: “C’mon Dewey. There’s nothing
wrong with a little machete fighting.” (The outcome, though tragic, is rendered
less so in hindsight when we learn that, had he lived, angelic Nate would have
grown up to be a foul-mouthed butterball played by Jonah Hill.)

 

Dewey, too, suffers his share of hardship when he loses his
sense of smell, but he doesn’t allow this disability to hold him back. He gets
his first taste of fame at age 14 (though already bearing a suspicious
resemblance to 42-year-old John C. Reilly), when his tender pop ditty “Take My
Hand” inspires lasciviousness and fisticuffs at the local sock hop. From there,
he’s on his way: He records hit songs, beginning with the Cashesque anthem of
perseverance “Walk Hard”; acquires a wife and several kids; meets his June
Cartery muse (Jenna Fischer); experiments with marijuana even after being
warned that it’s harmless, inexpensive, and non-habit-forming; and tears the
sinks out of countless bathroom walls.

 

The conceit for the film is so slender that one keeps
expecting it to break, but Kasdan and co-writer Judd Apatow keep it zipping
along nicely, with drive-bys of Elvis, Bob Dylan (Reilly’s impression puts Cate
Blanchett to shame), “The Partridge Family,” Charles Manson (“His music is
terrible,” Dewey is informed, “but he’s a really nice guy”), ’70s
musical-variety shows, and the Beatles. (Paul Rudd’s cameo as John Lennon is
deliriously inspired.)

 

For years, it seemed as though no one else in American film
could manage Will Ferrell’s winning style of irony-free humor, his ability to
be the joke without constantly reminding us that he’s in on the joke. But Reilly seems to
have inherited the comic manner of his Talladega
Nights costar, and underplays his idiocy nicely, with nary a wink
throughout. As a teenybopper fan of Dewey’s effuses early in the movie, “He
walks so hard.”

 

--Christopher Orr

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