Ignored by audiences upon its initial release last December, Jake Kasdan's hysterically funny musical biopic spoof WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (***1/2) had me in stitches for much of its 100 minute running time. Well received by critics but never catching fire at the domestic box office (it grossed $18 million, a far cry from the $150 million grossing KNOCKED UP and SUPERBAD, two other Judd Apatow factory comedies), WALK HARD is a sure-bet for success on DVD and cable. And what a pleasure to see John C. Reilly finally get his chance at leading man material; he's perfect in the lead role and it'd be a shame if he isn't given more leading parts in the future based on the poor ticket sales for WALK HARD. This summer's comedy team-up of him and Will Ferrell in STEP BROTHERS sounds like a winner and should put Reilly back in the spot light.
WALK HARD is basically a spoof of WALK THE LINE, and the musical biopic in general. Co-writers Kasdan and Apatow mimic the through-line of RAY and WALK THE LINE with their fictional crooner Dewey Cox (Reilly) living in a country home and causing the unfortunate death of his musically talented brother. Dewey leaves his home (at age 14), gets married (at 15), and has a gaggle of kids with a few different wives. Jenna Fisher from THE OFFICE shows up half-way through as his June Carter; she's funny as usual and unexpectedly sexy. Dewey explodes onto the music scene with the film taking shots at Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Jim Morrison, and of course, Johnny Cash. But the usual mistakes that popular musicians make throughout their career are all hilariously touched upon. Dewey can't resist the temptation of drugs, with a fellow band member played with lunatic glee by Tim Meadows offering him a variety of controlled substances in a recurring sub-plot. He argues with all the women in his life, with them constantly walking out on him. He makes a few trips to rehab and has a knack for tearing bathroom sinks out of the wall. One stand-out sequence with Dewey destroying the living room of his house in a fit of anger is crazy-funny; never before has the image of a man punching a potted-plant ever been so humorous. He even gets addicted to LSD after being introduced to the drug by The Beatles during a visit to India (Paul Rudd, Jack Black and Justin Long are all very funny in cameos). Throw in some graphic nudity (male and female), some crude sex jokes, and lots of wacky behavior, and you have a comedy that is primed with hearty laughs.
This isn't a realistic comedy in the vein of THE FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN (another Apatow flick) or KNOCKED UP. It's more in line with the comedic sensibility of AIRPLANE and ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY. Kasdan and Apatow go way over the top in a few scenes, which lead to big laughs. But at times, WALK HARD wants to be a real movie, and you start caring about Dewey in a way that isn't common when dealing with main characters in spoof films. Kasdan and Apatow really demonstrate that it's still possible to make a smart yet outrageous spoof movie, without resorting to simpleton gags featured in lame efforts like MEET THE SPARTANS and SUPERHERO MOVIE. Reilly, in an extremely committed performance, sings with gusto (the songs are witty, clever, and filled with double entendres) and creates a character who is funny, sweet, and always likable. Kasdan, who's previous film was the scathing Hollywood satire THE TV SET, has a simple visual style that suits the story nicely, and the all-star supporting cast is filled with tons of familiar faces. WALK HARD is a very funny little comedy with equal parts heart, silliness, and inspired idiocy all wrapped up into one persuasive package. Check it out; I dare you not to laugh.