Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

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Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Review (7.5/10)
(By Ron Henriques)

Writer/director Judd Apatow seems to be on a successful roll after helming "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and producing "Superbad" as well as several of Will Ferrell's recent hits. Actors and writers who have had minor roles in the TV cult hit "Freaks and Geeks" or any of his other productions are rewarded by him with meatier work down the line. Actors Seth Rogan, Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill are three individuals who have prospered with Apatow's success and writer/director Jake Kasdan is another. The son of director Lawrence Kasdan, he first cut his teeth on the small detective comedy, "The Zero Effect" followed by the Jack Black vehicle "Orange County". (If you want to see a comedy that mirrors the struggles of the current writers strike, check out Kasdan's "The TV Set" from earlier this year.) Having worked with Apatow on "Freaks and Geeks" Kasdan is familiar with the man's style and sense of humor and along with actor John C. Reilly, they've created the rock n' roll bio-pic "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."

John C. Reilly is a man who has played second fiddle to everyone from Mark Whalberg to Will Farrell. Paul Thomas Anderson saw his potential with a lead role in his little seen first film "Hard Eight", but his career has often mirrored the "Mr. Cellophane" character of his Oscar nominated role in "Chicago". Taking center stage as Dewey Cox, a good ole boy in the spirit of Johnny Cash, Reilly's dumbfounded behavior makes great entertainment. Dewey is quite endearing as we witness his meteoric rise and fall. The son of a farmer, Dewey's older brother is the star child of the family until he is accidentally cut in half when the two decide to playfully duel with machetes in the barn. His mother knows it was an accident, but for the next thirty years, bitter father Raymond J. Barry will scornfully remind Dewey that "the wrong kid died!"

In "Obi-Wan Kenobi" fashion, his brother's spirit will encourage Dewey that it's up to him to be doubly great for the both of them. Encountering two black bluesman expressing their troubles through song, young Dewey picks up a guitar plays the blues like a pro (not bad for his first time) and is immediately hooked. At the age of fourteen (hilariously played now by Reilly), Dewey nearly starts a riot at a school talent show when he plays "devil's music" which is the seed of rock n' roll. Wanting no part of his son's life, dad throws him out of the house and Dewey takes his 12-year-old girlfriend (played by obviously middle-aged actress Kristen Wiig) along with him. At that tender age, Dewey is not only stuck working as a bus boy in a black jazz club, but with five kids by his girlfriend who is now his wife. He gets lucky one night when the singer of a popular band can't play and steps in for him to knock the sox off by a couple of music producers in the audience. Those producers happen to run showbiz and are presented as a group of Hasidic Jews, one of which is played by actor/director Harold Ramis.

Dewey scores a recording contract and is off and running. Despite his success, his wife still thinks he's gonna fail to which his reply is his hit song "Walk Hard." Dewey vows to be faithful to his wife despite a hectic tour schedule that keeps them apart, but all that of course changes when he's exposed to drugs. "Get out of here Dewey, this is marijuana and you don't want any part of this sh*t", his drummer Tim Meadows tells him when he innocently walks into a smoky bathroom filled with groupies. But Dewey's curiosity gets the better of him and before he knows it he's telling his wife over the phone how much he loves her in the aftermath of an all-night orgy. Throughout his career, Dewey will walk in on his drummer using everything from cocaine to pills and every time his curiosity will get the better of him.

While on tour he meets young Darlene (Jenna Fischer), a Christian girl who feels an emotional connection with him that's more than just the duet they share on their hit single "Let's Duet." Darlene doesn't want to give into sinful temptation, but exclaims she "yearns for a man's touch and by that I mean a penis in my vagina." It isn't long before Dewey marries this girl to get in the sack with her but there's just one problem. He's still married.

Dewey's life and career spirals, up, down and out of control and like Bob Dylan he constantly evolves. At one point he is accused of ripping off Dylan and claims "that maybe Dylan ripped me off." Sure, the curly hair, buttoned down black suits and indecipherable songs he now sings (in a black and white sequence) were all his idea. Dewey finds himself in and out of rehab and just when he discovers a new aspect of his life with a new purpose he stumbles again. One case in point is an LSD trip in India he shares with the Beatles John (Paul Rudd), Paul (Jack Black), George (Justin Long) and Ringo (Jason Schwartzman). It's suggested that his bad trip caused an argument that led to their break-up, but we'll never know for sure.

"Walk Hard" follows Dewey's life over a sixty year period and the many stages of his evolution (or de-evolution). The film is a sparse ninety minutes, yet it feels like a rewarding and cohesive biography that just happens to be a comedy. Dewey crosses paths with everyone from Buddy Holly (Frankie Muniz), to Elvis and the Big-Bopper to current stars like Eddie Vedder, Jackson Brown and Jewel who perform in a tribute to him. Dewey's voice is even remixed into hip-hop songs performed by rapper Ghostface Killa. The title of the film is a humorous play on words itself, but the picture would be nothing without the childlike and naive performance of Reilly. He makes a pretty good singer as well and as the co-writer, has fashioned some songs with pretty humorous lyrics hidden in the subtext. "I'm gonna beat off...all my demons" he tells Darlene on the single "Let's Duet." Reilly is also given welcome support by SNL veteran Tim Meadows who pretty much gives the same warning to Dewey every time he catches him using a new drug. Just insert the drug's name in the blank.

"Walk Hard" isn't really a parody of musical bio-pics like "Ray", "Walk the Line" or "Coal Miner's Daughter", but makes fun of the ups and downs of the turbulent entertainment business. It also celebrates the power of music and the inspiration that leads artists to fashioning memorable and emotional pieces of work. In Dewey's case, he's inspired by every time something bad happens to him whether that be having a dad who hates you or losing your sense of smell after accidentally cutting your brother in half.

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