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Beat of a different drummer
Wilson shows us his acting as well as musical chops in 'The Rocker'

The Rocker (R)

Two and a half stars out of four

It wouldn't be going out on a limb to suggest the lead role in "The Rocker" was first offered to Will Ferrell and then perhaps Jack Black. It has too much heart and not enough unfunny humor for Ferrell and Black already played essentially the same character in "School of Rock." Rainn Wilson (Dwight from "The Office") eventually got the gig, and after watching the movie, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing part of Robert "Fish" Fishman, a washed-up '80s hair band drummer still craving the limelight.

Wilson is very good in what is only a so-so movie being released on an ugly-stepsister weekend in late August. The movie will likely tank but Wilson's performance could go far in fetching him other leading man roles (this is his first).

Unceremoniously kicked out of the band Vesuvius just as they hit it big, Fish works as a computer geek in a cubicle and still can't shake that 20-year-old chip off his shoulder. After losing his job, he moves into the attic of his sister's home where he continues to wallow in self-pity. After a flare up leaves his nephew's band without a drummer, Fish seizes the opportunity to relive his youth and, in a most pathetic way, recover at least some of his dignity.

Credit to director Peter Cattaneo and his screenwriters for delivering a not-quite predictable "triumphant underdog" tale which is brimming with good intentions but largely lacking any memorable laughs. In spirit, it mirrors Cattaneo's "The Full Monty," but in execution more resembles a third-rate "This is Spinal Tap."

A romance between Fish and the mother of one of the band members (Christina Applegate) is too much of a reality stretch even for a broad comedy. How exactly the band gets notice does make sense given the current "YouTube" world of ours, but it too feels too forced and contrived. None of the three performers making up the rest of the band have much personality, which would still be the case had Wilson tuned down his overpowering presence.

Even though he can't act very well, singer/guitarist Teddy Geiger, who plays Curtis, is likely to further escalate his teen-heartthrob profile with his considerable musical acumen. The original songs (written by Chad Fischer) are an interesting mix of '80s flavored pop and edgy confessional rock and are far better than the usual throwaway movie filler.

It's clear Wilson has the talent to play overbearing comic blowhards, but while watching him work, one can't help get the feeling that given just the right material, he could make for a truly menacing villain in a dramatic thriller.

Ferrell, Black and even Adam Sandler have all tried drama and for the most part, have pulled it off. Wilson's a better actor than all of them and hopefully, someone in a position of power will recognize that sooner rather than later. (Fox Atomic)

E-mail Michael Clark at clarkwriter@mindspring.com.