Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky blew out his knee on a power slide. That's why he never made it to the majors.
"We've got one spot left. You guys got any new material?"—Open Mic Host (Paul F. Tompkins)
Uh, this next band asked me to read something. So here it goes:"Are you ready to get your socks rocked off—then stuck up your butts and fired into orbit by the power of our rock?"Uh, ok. Here they are, singing their new song, "The Pick of Destiny." Ladies and gentlemen, Tenacious D.
Facts of the Case
From Kickapoo there came a man
Uh, maybe I should stop right here, before I get myself in trouble. Anyway, Kyle and Jack hook up, trying to form a rock band, then go after a mysterious guitar pick made from Satan's tooth. Yeah. That's pretty much it. Sort of thing that happens all the time.
Let's get this straight: Tenacious D is a comedy act. It is also a rock band. There are really two Tenacious Ds. The first is an acoustic guitar duo with little talent and a lot of attitude, open mic embarrassments who try every week to impress audiences at a local club. The band consists of Kyle Gass (sometimes referred to as Rage Kage or KG) and Jack Black (sometimes referred to as Jables or JB). This is the Tenacious D that appeared in a short-lived HBO series back in the late '90s. The other Tenacious D is a bombastic rock act, a throwback to the '70s. They record albums, pull in guest musicians, go on tour to enthusiastic crowds who treat them like rock gods. The band consists of Kyle Gass (musician and comedic actor) and Jack Black (comedic actor and musician).
Confused? Then you might have a hard time making sense of Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny. Are Gass and Black playing themselves? Are they playing dimwitted characters who share their names? Can they really rock, or are they just overweight, socially-challenged wannabes who never grew past their high school dreams of stardom?
The film begins with a bang, kicking off with a funny THX parody animated by John Krisfaluci then rolling into a Tommy-inspired rock-opera bit chronicling the rough childhood of our hero, Jables. Meat Loaf as Jack's father? Ronnie James Dio come to prove how "magical and rad" rock is? Inspired stuff. These first few minutes are a tasty load of rocket sauce, to borrow a phrase from Jables himself.
Unfortunately, the movie never sustains this pace. As soon as the opening credits are over, the movie drops into traditional narrative mode. The best moments are for the fans. Oh look, there is Sasquatch (played by an uncredited John C. Reilly)! Hey, there's Lee, the band's biggest fan! They're playing "Classico" and "The History of Tenacious D!" But it only really reminds the fans how much isn't here. No visit to Jesus Camp?
Like most sketch-bound characters expanded to feature length, Jables and KG have a difficult time keeping it up for an hour and a half. A stronger roster of supporting characters might have helped. Fans of the HBO series will appreciate seeing the open mic night emcee (Paul F. Tompkins) and superfan Lee (J.R. Reed), but it would have been nice to get a few new characters added to the Tenacious D cosmos.
But the biggest disappointment is the film's climax. And here is the paragraph you want to skip if you are trying to avoid spoilers. Ok, still here? The film's climax is really an extended version of the D's best song, "Tribute." I don't want to say too much about all this, but if you know the song, you know how it all turns out. For fans, this makes the ending rather redundant, although it does return to the rock-opera format that worked so well in the film's opening sequence. For viewers meeting the D for the first time, the actual climax is pretty limp, ending abruptly with too many unresolved plot points. (That, and a feeling that the punch line of the whole bit is somehow missing.) An alternate ending snipped from the film (but included here on the DVD) does wrap things up a little more coherently, but closes on a pretty obvious gag.
Some of the new material is amusing: a parody of A Clockwork Orange, Jack's lessons in how to be a rock god—but it seems to diminish as the film goes on, as if the script's creative juices dried up. By the second half, the movie just drags, like a guitar solo that has gone on way too long. This happens a lot with sketch-based movies: the first half throws in a lot of random comedy bits, while the second half has to work out the plot of the movie, which leaves little time for the funny.
Jack Black has had enough experience carrying a comedy film that audiences should have no problem buying his usual on-screen persona here: an oversized, self-important Peter Pan. Actually, some audiences are kind of tired of that by now. In this film at least, Black seems liberated enough playing a character he clearly "owns" that he chews scenery with infectious delight. Kyle Gass does not seem quite as comfortable, perhaps because he is obligated more to underplay as the straight man to Black's scat-singing lunatic. Separately, they would just be annoying—and in the few scenes where they do not share the screen, the film noticeably grinds to a halt. Together, they have great chemistry, but then they've had years to perfect their shtick. There is a tricky balance to all this. Jables and KG are idiots and slackers, so we are meant to laugh at their clueless obsession with their own alleged talent. But we are also meant to rock along. The band's best songs walk this line successfully. They are head-bobbing, codpiece-filling hook machines. At their worst, they are bombastic novelty songs—but still funny at least the first time. When the music is playing, the movie takes flight. But in between the Tenacious D songs, there is a lot of padding. Some glaring cameos (Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins) are presumably meant to generate laughs, but they are really just distracting.
And that is The Pick of Destiny in a nutshell. Parts have the rhythm of a good rock song. Parts are like the worst '80s hair band you ever laughed at on MTV in high school. Black and Gass should have worried less about the distracting plot and tightened up the individual "sketches" for their comic value.
The film rates two commentary tracks. Jack Black and Kyle Gass are half in character, copping attitude throughout but admitting that the whole business is fiction. Everything in the movie "kicks ass." The second commentary features a solo Liam Lynch, who leaves long pauses and—well, is explaining what the New Line logo is really helpful? That is the sort of thing you are in for here. Much of Lynch's trivia appears in the other commentary. Maybe they should have folded these tracks together, letting Lynch play straight man to his two stars.
I said earlier that the film needed tightening. Imagine what it would have been like with the dozen deleted scenes put back in. Many of them probably sounded good on paper (Kyle plays a video driving game, then later sees the obligatory car chase as that same game) but don't actually work on screen. There are also some outtakes and the aforementioned alternate ending mixed in here. To highlight the film's status as a "musical," the bonus features menu lets you skip directly to the songs throughout the movie. Three short behind-the-scenes featurettes focus respectively on the film's production, recording the songs, and filming the music video for the snappy title track. That music video (directed by Lynch) encapsulates the entire Tenacious D conceit (unsexy rockers busting their moves while totally ignoring the fact that everyone around them is totally appalled) concisely. Strong evidence that the D should stick to the short form. Missing from the extras: the twisted "Hell O'Clock News" segments from the film's website.
If you are willing to put this into your DVD-ROM player and risk dealing with the disc's InterActual software, you can watch the movie with a running transcript (sort of like vertical scrolling subtitles), photo gallery, and links to deleted scenes relevant to what is happening on screen.
Hardcore fans of the D already own the feature-packed Complete Masterworks, which includes the HBO shows and rocking concert material. They may also notice all the recycling. Newcomers will find the movie funny in spots, but lacking in much replay value. In both cases, you should consider a rental. Crank up the DTS 6.1 ES Discrete soundtrack (or just the ordinary Dolby 5.1, you big baby) and RAWK!
Guilty only of trying to be cooler than they really are. Court is adjourned for a totally awesome rock and roll party.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Commentary by Jack Black and Kyle Gass
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