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'Walk Hard' succeeds at mocking musical bio-pic

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (R)

3 stars out of 4

By anyone's gauge, filmmaker Judd Apatow has had a banner year. He followed up 2006's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" with the raucous "Knocked Up," two movies which single-handedly revived the "R" rated romantic comedy. As the producer, he did the same thing for the teen romp "Superbad." Now, again as producer and co-writer for "Walk Hard," Apatow takes a stab at mocking the musical bio-pic. It's not quite everything he - or we - thought it should be, but it's still pretty darn good.

Even the best movie parodies have to throw a lot at the wall in the hopes that some of it will stick and "Walk Hard" follows this train of thought. Even at a measly 90 minutes, the movie almost wears out its welcome. Just a pinch of this brand of humor goes a long way.

Dewey (John C. Reilly shining in his first-ever lead role) is a bright-eyed Alabama boy who becomes the rock world's Forrest Gump. From the mid-'50s to the late '70s, Dewey is a musical chameleon. Starting off with the folksy title song, he goes through his Dylan infatuation, his Beatles period, his strung-out Brian Wilson phase, punk and finally - tragically - disco.

Rather than make the movie about the music, Apatow and director/co-writer Jake Kasdan deliver a behind-the-scenes take covering family tragedy, rampant excess, turbulent romance and a creative ego run amuck. Mostly miming the recent Ray Charles and Johnny Cash biographies, the movie opens with Dewey accidentally killing his more talented older brother. This leads to permanent estrangement from his father and, in a nod to Jerry Lee Lewis, marriage to a pre-teen bride.

Once he hits the big time, Dewey ignores his family and falls prey to all the incidental trappings of stardom. There are drugs, groupies, wild spending sprees and misdirected musical experimentation. In brief, well-crafted bridge scenes, Apatow and Kasdan acknowledge the 1967 Summer of Love, Dylan's electric debut and the Beatles' flirtation with Indian mysticism. The absolute funniest scene in the movie features Jack Black as Paul McCartney, Paul Rudd as John Lennon, Jason Schwartzman as Ringo Starr and Justin Long as George Harrison, all of who turn Dewey on to LSD. An impressive send-up of the animated "Yellow Submarine" movie follows in its wake.

Breaking far away from her Pam character from NBC's "The Office," Jenna Fischer co-stars as the June Carter-inspired love interest Darlene Madison. Alternately playing prude, tease and vixen, Fischer steals every scene she's in and reveals herself to be a gorgeous and witty leading lady. Someone needs to find this girl her own starring vehicle. And quickly.

As with every Apatow movie, this film very much deserves its hard "R" rating. The nudity, drug use and profanity are frank, flagrant and frequent. The movie's not perfect, but it's decadent. Just like rock and roll should be. (Sony/Columbia)