Judge Gordon Sullivan stands for big things, like runaway tractor-trailers or fiery meteors headed toward where he's sitting.
Our review of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story: 2-Disc Unrated Edition, published April 1st, 2008, is also available.
Life made him tough. Love made him strong. Music made him hard.
Johnny Cash was a living legend. This is a rare feat when the price of entry to the rock 'n roll hall of fame is usually an early death. He was a big man who stood for big things, like love and Jesus. It's no surprise then that the biopic of his life, Walk the Line was a big affair as well. Full of hot-blooded emotions and larger-than-life personalities, the film translated his story to the silver screen with aplomb. As with any film that aims that high and presents a target so broad, though, it was ripe for parody. Enter another film in the Judd Apatow clan of cinematic comedies: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. While going for laughs instead of pathos, Walk Hard still hits at a number of truths about music and celebrity, all while being funny along the way.
Facts of the Case
Dewey Cox accidentally killed his ridiculously talented brother, so he knows he has to be twice the musician to make up for his mistake. He takes his talents into the arena of rock 'n roll, where his talent for songwriting leads him to a life of women, drugs, and the fast lane. But as his addictions mount, his children multiply, and his life moves towards a close, Dewey has to face the demons that have driven him to success.
I feel alone in saying this, but I didn't like The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The actors were fine, but the script just didn't grab me. Because of my dislike for the film, I've avoided other films associated with Apatow, like Superbad and Knocked Up. Only my love for Johnny Cash (and, to a lesser extent, Walk the Line) brought me to watch Walk Hard. I'm glad it did.
Many parody producers forget the cardinal rule of comedy: have a good story and let the jokes flow from that. Many parodies (I'm looking at you, Epic Movie & Co.) don't have an interesting plot from which to pull the jokes. Classics like Airplane! or Blazing Saddles had discernable plots that would have worked without the copious jokes. I'm sure that, when parodying the musical biopic, there must have been a huge temptation to just string together a bunch of rock-star excess scenes coupled with some scenes that make fun of the various rock-star handicaps (Ray Charles blind jokes anyone?). Instead, Walk Hard uses the early tragedy and meteoric rise of Johnny Cash as its template, throwing in jabs at Elvis, the Beatles, Jim Morrison, and a host of other famous musicians along the way. These jabs work more often than not, but what impressed me the most was the film's unwavering dedication to the conceit of a fictional biopic. All the jokes sprung from this basic idea, so even if one didn't get all the jokes and references, Walk Hard would still be an enjoyable film.
I repent. When P.T. Anderson used to gush about John C. Reilly (and feature his outtakes heavily on his DVDs), I admit I didn't see it. I enjoyed his work in a number of films (Gangs of New York, The Aviator, and A Prairie Home Companion to name a few), but I didn't see the comedic genius that Anderson touted. Like a rock star in rehab, I have seen the light. For 96 minutes, John C. Reilly is Dewey Cox, with all his charms and foibles, equally at home in the emotional and comedic realms of the film. He commits completely to the role, changing from an innocent young rocker to a drugged-out, self-styled "genius," and back to regular guy. His Dylan parody is my favorite moment in the film. I don't know if it's an Oscar worthy performance, but it's darn good.
Jenna Fischer also deserves praise for playing second fiddle to Reilly's Cox. In many ways Reese Witherspoon was the best thing about Walk the Line, and to have to attempt a parody of her performance is a tall order. Fischer accomplishes the role with charm to spare. She brings a sweet ferocity to Darlene that is the equal of Dewey's excess. The rest of the cast (especially the cameos) are well-chosen and help round out the story wonderfully. Special mention goes to Tim Meadows who plays Dewey's druggie drummer. I don't know what makes his role special, but there is something on about his performance.
The music in Walk Hard is hilarious as well. These songs might not be Cash-level classics, but they do a good job bringing the laughs. John C. Reilly had already demonstrated his able voice on A Prairie Home Companion, and it's in fine form here as well. Like the plot, the songs work as songs first, and parody/comedy second. "Walk Hard" is a fun song, but my favorite is Dewey's song with Darlene, "Let's Duet."
On the audiovisual front, I noticed none of the difficulties my fellow judge found in the DVD edition of this film. Detail, color saturation, and grain were all under control, with nary an artifact to be found. It's not a reference disc, but for a comedy it looks good. The audio does an effective job reproducing the hilarious lines and songs.
Like any good rock star, this Blu-ray edition of Walk Hard is loaded. The main extra is the director's cut of the film. I wouldn't change a minute of the theatrical cut, but the so-called "Unbearably Long, Self-Indulgent Director's Cut" is perfect for those who want to spend a little more time with Cox. There's also a commentary with the major players behind the film, including Apatow, director Kasdan, and star O'Reilly. My favorite extra is the option to watch sixteen full songs by Mr. Cox himself, including "Walk Hard," "Let's Duet," "Royal Jelly," and others. There are also the standard deleted and extended scenes, as well as a couple of featurettes which examine the music and making of Walk Hard. "Line-O-Rama" features alternate line readings improvised by the actors. They don't all hit the mark, but enough of them are funny to make it worth watching. This Blu-ray includes BD-Live access to three featurettes by famed "Coxicologist" Derek Stone. He analyzes famous moments in Dewey's history before introducing Dewey's songs. The quality and quantity of extras is truly impressive.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Like all comedies, this film is not to all tastes. If you've missed out on the last fifty years of popular music history, many of the jokes will fall flat. The film also earns its R rating, with ample nudity and adult language, so if you like your comedy clean, look elsewhere.
Walk Hard is a comedy that hits more than it misses. If you've been aching to see someone deflate the recent Oscar-happy musical biopic trend, then Walk Hard is the film for you. Luckily, this Blu-ray edition is easy to recommend on its strong audiovisual presentation and bevy of extras.
Dewey Cox may Walk Hard, but he also walks free from this court.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Jake Kasdan, Judd Apatow, John C. Reilly, and Lew Morton
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