Movie News & Reviews

'Walk Hard' packs the parody punch

Parody movies are always a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel proposition.

Easy targets make for easy laughs, and the music world and music biopic are ripe fodder for cheap comedy. The latest film to take aim at the overblown Hollywood melodrama machine is "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" skewering everything from "Ray" to "Walk the Line."

The newest from Judd Apatow's seemingly unstoppable production company ("Knocked Up," "Superbad") seems destined to be another hit. Silly and often crude, it's intent on worming its way into your belly and pulling the laughs right out of you. Rapid-fire gags abound in this musical mash-up that is definitely more "Airplane" than "Spinal Tap."

Directed by Jake Kasdan, who helmed the mediocre "Orange County" and last year's "The TV Set," "Walk Hard" is a candy-colored nightmare of pop-culture obsession. Co-written by Apatow and Kasdan, the screenplay chips away at the sacred cow of celebrity but somehow manages to stay charming rather than offensive to its targets.

The basic structure seems to be patterned on the life of Johnny Cash, but there are swipes at Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson and Jim Morrison, among others. In flashback, "Walk Hard" spins the dizzying tale of singer Dewey Cox from his humble beginnings to his meteoric rise to fame, and then his inevitable descent into drugs and depression and then back again. Along the way we get the rockabilly years, the hippie years, the disco years and everything in between.

The devil's in the details, as they say, and Apatow and Kasdan pack as many satirical jabs in the little moments as they do in the broadly staged spectacles of Dewey's life. From the costumes to the sets to the throwaway lines, it's this dedicated attention to detail that makes "Walk Hard" such a delight to watch.

The casting is another factor in why "Walk Hard" manages to work so well. In a part that could easily have been ruined by the broad mugging of a Will Ferrell, Dewey is instead played to perfection by straight-faced über-schlub John C. Reilly, who has been deserving a meaty comedic role such as this. Able support is also provided by "The Office's" Jenna Fischer as his June Carter-like paramour, and Matt Besser and SNL'ers Chris Parnell and Tim Meadows as his band mates.

There are also hilarious cameos by everyone from Eddie Vedder to Ghostface Killah, with particularly amusing bits by Frankie Muniz as Buddy Holly and Jack White as a karate-chopping Elvis. The only sour note is a bug-eyed Jack Black stopping the film dead as an unfunny Paul McCartney, in an otherwise-inspired scene where Dewey drops acid with the Beatles.

Ultimately the real star here is the music. With songs written by such diverse talents as Marshall Crenshaw, Van Dyke Parks and even O'Reilly himself, the tunes are as catchy as they are howlingly funny. Whether it's the folkie Dylanesque ode to oppressed midgets, "Let Me Hold You (Little Man)," or the double-entendre laden June/Johnny ditty "Let's Duet," the soundtrack becomes an integral part of the cock-eyed chaos of the film.

Though unashamedly deserving of its R rating, "Walk Hard" is at heart a sweet kid trying its darndest to make you like it. In a season of grim, albeit great, films like "No Country For Old Men," it's a welcome palate-cleanser at the multiplex.