Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."

After a barrage of downer movies filled with gore, war and other bleak subject matter, finally there's a holiday release that's all about making spirits bright.

"Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" is a pitch-perfect musical comedy that at long last moves the talented John C. Reilly up the billing ladder from second banana to top banana.

Sprinting through the decades like Forrest Gump with a gee-tar, Reilly's blissfully oblivious Dewey Cox and the Jake Kasdan film (co-written with some guy called Judd Apatow) is just plain, undemanding fun.

Along the way it takes playful jabs at familiar music biopics, especially "Walk the Line," against a soundtrack of terrific original tunes that channel everyone from Johnny and June, Roy Orbison and Dylan to the Beatles and beyond.

The unmistakably adult-oriented results -- this is one comedy that really earns its R rating -- will nevertheless play to a wide-reaching demographic from the younger-skewing fans of Apatow's summer treats "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" to boomers who will get a kick out of all those '60s and '70s pop culture references.

Audiences should find themselves laughing hard well into the new year.

Utilizing that familiar screen bio bookend device of starting just before the end and then flashing all the way back to the central character's earliest memories, "Walk Hard" dutifully traces Dewey's formative years as a young boy (Conner Rayburn) growing up poor in '40s-era Springberry, Ala.

The fateful die is cast one day when Dewey accidentally cuts his older brother, Nate (Chip Hormess), in half real bad while play-dueling with their dad's collectible machetes.

With the family physician unable to save Nate, declaring it "a particularly bad case of somebody being cut in half," the already guilt-ridden Dewey will forever be reminded by his father (Raymond J. Barry) that the wrong son died.

Determined to make something of himself, Dewey, who discovers an aptitude for playing a mean blues guitar, later puts a band together along with drug-dabbling drummer Sam (never funnier "Saturday Night Live" alum Tim Meadows), bass player Theo (Chris Parnell) and guitarist Dave (Matt Besser), ultimately impressing the suits at Planet Record studios (a trio of Hasidic Jews, played by Harold Ramis, Phil Rosenthal and Martin Starr) with their signature song, "Walk Hard."

Soon Dewey and the boys are cranking out hit records as fast as his wife, Edith (Kirsten Wiig), is popping out babies, but life yields its share of temptations, most notably in the form of the lovely Darlene (Jenna Fischer of "The Office"), his virtuous new backup singer.

Along the way, Dewey gets swept up in the protest movement (taking up the cause of women and midgets), '60s psychedelia (meeting up with the Beatles in India, with an unbilled Paul Rudd and Jack Black respectively playing a bickering Lennon and McCartney), Brian Wilson-style excess and, ultimately, redemption.

While this type of parody can be hard to sustain, director and co-writer Kasdan, who demonstrated a nice satiric touch with "The TV Set," keeps things humming along quite efficiently.

Granted, there's a bit of a lull in the middle -- one too many rehab sequences -- but "Walk Hard" quickly gets back up to speed, propelled by Reilly's fearless, tour-de-farce performance, not to mention those wacky cameos: Frankie Muniz as Buddy Holly? Jack White as Elvis? Lyle Lovett, Jackson Browne, Jewel, Ghostface Killah and Eddie Vedder as themselves?

Add in those Christopher Guest-worthy song parodies contributed by composer Mike Andrews, Dan Bern, Mike Viola ("That Thing You Do!") and even the legendary Van Dyke Parks, and you've got yourself a holiday "Walk" that's refreshingly on the wild side.

WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY
Columbia Pictures
Columbia presents in association with Relativity Media
a Nominated Films production
Credits:
Director: Jake Kasdan
Screenwriters: Judd Apatow, Jake Kasdan
Producers: Judd Apatow, Jake Kasdan, Clayton Townsend
Executive producer: Lew Morton
Director of photography: Uta Briesewitz
Production designer: Jefferson D. Sage
Music: Michael Andrews
Music supervisors: Manish Raval, Tom Wolfe
Costume designer: Debra McGuire
Editors: Tara Timpone, Steve Welch
Cast:
Dewey Cox: John C. Reilly
Darlene Madison Cox: Jenna Fischer
Sam: Tim Meadows
Edith Cox: Kirsten Wiig
Pa Cox: Raymond J. Barry
L'Chai'm: Harold Ramis
Ma Cox: Margo Martindale
Theo: Chris Parnell
Dave: Matt Besser
Schwartzberg: David Krumholtz
Running time -- 96 minutes
MPAA rating: R

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