Forty-something wannabe rock star worms his way into his teenage nephew's band. How many times do you think Will Ferrell and Jack Black have turned down that pitch? I'm guessing approximately eleventy billion.
Rainn Wilson (of TV's “The Office”) can't afford to be so choosy. Playing a paunchy workaday drone chasing one last shot at rock 'n' roll glory is the kind of dues you've got to pay when you're working your way up from cameo player to feature film star.
Not that “The Rocker” is a major feature. Lightweight as cotton candy and nearly as beneficial for your brain, it is a banal concoction of hair-band gags and unconvincing romantic comedy. Wilson plays Fish Fishman, a has-been drummer from Vesuvius, an '80s rock band that dumped him the very day it hit the big time. (Metallica's lawyers, take note.)
Fish has been nursing his grudge for two decades, and when a co-worker raves about the group and plays a track from their latest smash album, he runs amok. Dominoes fall as he gets fired, loses his girlfriend, and moves in with his sister's family in Cleveland, where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seems to mock him from every shot.
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Wouldn't you know that his loser nephew's high school band lost its drummer right before the prom? Who could possibly fill in on such short notice? Through an inexcusably dumb chain of events, the band becomes a YouTube sensation and the band goes on tour. Christina Applegate, playing the guitarist's hot momma, tags along as the youngsters' chaperone and Wilson's unlikely love interest.
And so things begin looking up for our protagonist. If only some sort of battle of the bands could bring Fish and friends up against his old antagonists on Vesuvius, what a fitting climax that would be! But of course, such a thing could never happen.
The movie's screenplay (by the husband-and-wife team of Maya Forbes of “The Larry Sanders Show” and former “Simpsons” writer Wally Wolodarsky) holds some interest as a storehouse of used comedy ideas. Repeated head-bangings? Check. Paunchy pale guy wearing tighty whities? Check. Adult man-child behaving in age-inappropriate ways? Double check. This film is just another hairball clog in the seasonal glut of dumb comedies.
Peter Cattaneo, director of the warmhearted “The Full Monty,” fumbles here, opting for broad, lazy satire of stereotypes rather than creating only a couple of carefully individualized characters. Wilson is all over the map. Jane Lynch is stiff and stern as his disapproving sister. The film is a better showcase for Jeff Garlin (currently heard as the Captain in “Wall-E”), who shines as Wilson's sympathetic brother-in-law, and Emma Stone (“Superbad”) as the band's wry, rebellious bassist. With her eyes screaming “you've got to be kidding me” in every scene, she's a hilarious representation of teen exasperation.
But two great cuts don't make an album and two fine supporting performances don't make “The Rocker” worthwhile.