Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Rock Star (2001)
Studio Line: Warner Bros. - The story of a wannabe who got to be.

Three chords, an attitude -- and you're history! A copy machine repairman's world is rocked when he's tapped to be the new singer for his favorite band. Turn it up for a knowing, head-banding, hair-whipping, funny look at 80's speed-metal rock and the price of fame.

Director: Stephen Herek
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Flemyng, Timothy Olyphant, Timothy Spall
Box Office: Budget: $38 million. Opening Weekend: $6.018 million (2525 screens). Domestic Gross: $16.991 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1; subtitles English, French, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 28 chapters; rated R; 106 min.; $19.98; street date 1/22/02.
Supplements: Audio commentary from Director Stephen Herek; “Rock Star: A Backstage Look At a Legend” Featurette; Everclear “Rock Star” Music Video; Theatrical Trailer; Cast and Crew Filmographies.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B-/C+

Whatever I may think about the end result, I must acknowledge that the premise behind Rock Star is a good one. Loosely based on the saga of Tim “Ripper” Owens, the film looks at the life of Chris Cole (Mark Wahlberg), a young photocopier repairman in Pittsburgh who still lives with his parents. He idolizes (fictional) metal band Steel Dragon, and when their lead singer Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng) departs the group, Chris becomes their new front man.

Set during the mid-Eighties “hair metal” boom, Rock Star takes Chris from obscurity and plops him on stage in front of tens of thousands of fans. Steel Dragon are allegedly the biggest metal band in the land, and we watch as Chris deals with his new role. Particularly affected is his relationship with longtime girlfriend Emily (Jennifer Aniston); will it survive the temptations of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll?

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the biggest question that occurred to me as I watched Rock Star. More compelling was this query: who cares? While the life of Tim Owens offers a fascinating tale, Rock Star wasn’t a very interesting telling of it, even for a fictionalized version.

Amusingly, some folks on Internet forums have questioned the believability of the tale. While the filmmakers took some liberties, Rock Star did hew reasonably closely to the reality of Owens’ story. When singer Rob Halford left Judas Priest, the remaining band members found Owens in an Ohio-based Priest cover band after two fans sent them a videotape of that act. The movie replicated that submission, and it even made Beers gay, just like Halford.

From what I’ve read, Warner Bros. have strongly avoided acknowledging the similarities because of legal issues, but one can’t quibble with the believability of the basic tale, because it really happened. The movie definitely took liberties with the issues, though. For one, Owens didn’t join Priest until well after their glory days were done, whereas Cole connects with Dragon at the peak of their popularity. The whole Chris/Emily relationship and the other off-stage antics were totally fictional as well.

Nonetheless, despite many denials from all parties involved, this remains a version of Owens’ story - too bad it’s not a very good one. On the positive side, I did think the movie worked fairly well during some of it first act. The filmmakers were unable to capture the nuances of the era, as there’s very little to clearly indicate the period; some of the principals had that Eighties look, but most of the flick seemed fairly generic. However, I felt the film nicely captured Chris’ fandom and the excitement that came with his interest in Steel Dragon, and the scenes when he meets his heroes and joins the band were reasonably fun.

Speaking of whom, I was pleasantly surprised by Wahlberg’s performance in the lead role. I don’t think he’s a terrific actor, and my opinion fell further after his dull turn in 2001’s . Happily, he showed a lot more energy in Rock Star, especially during the earlier scenes. He wasn’t as good in the jaded debaucher segments, but Wahlberg still offered some of the film’s highlights.

Otherwise, unfortunately, Rock Star fell flat for the most part. None of the remaining actors stood out, and it almost totally wasted Aniston. A talented performer, she got stuck with the generic “girlfriend left behind” role, and there really wasn’t much she could do with it. We don’t see much development or exposition for Chris himself; as such, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that the rest of the characters were so poorly developed, but it’s still a weakness nonetheless.

“Generic” is really the word that best describes Rock Star. Although it was backed with an unusual - and true - narrative, it did little to differentiate the tale from other “rags to riches” success stories. We’ve already seen this movie, and we’ve seen it done better.

The soundtrack was a particular disappointment. Actually, the songs specifically written for “Steel Dragon” worked fairly well. They sounded like metal music from the era, and they were catchy enough for me to believe the Dragon would have been a hit. However, the rest of the film offered a bland mélange of pop and rock hits from the era. (Some came from after the years depicted, but they were close enough that I won’t pick too many nits.) I mean, did they actually pay someone to decide to play “California Girls” when Chris and Emily head out west? In addition, the choice of KISS’ “Lick It Up” immediately after a scene about cunnilingus doesn’t exactly qualify as clever. (Interestingly, the version heard is not the David Lee Roth rendition; I guess they couldn’t get the rights, for it’s a DLR sound-alike.)

Rock Star had potential, but it suffered from a distinct lack of coherence, logic, and depth. The movie offered a few fun moments and wasn’t a painful piece to watch. Nonetheless, it failed to sufficiently mine the material to its best advantage, and it came across as a flat and fairly lifeless flick.

If you do watch Rock Star, however, you definitely should stick around through the end credits. We find a roster of the usual outtakes, but one of them merits your attention. As a prank, the film crew did something to remind Wahlberg of his musical youth as Marky Mark. Wahlberg does not seem to look back fondly on those years, and he appeared distinctly not amused during the outtake. It’s almost worth the price of admission alone.

The DVD:

Rock Star appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the picture seemed generally attractive, it displayed some modest flaws that made it a bit disappointing.

Sharpness generally appeared very good, as most of the movie looked crisp and well defined. Some light softness interfered with a few wider shots, but these instances occurred infrequently. As a whole, the movie seemed detailed and accurate. I saw a little shimmer at times, but otherwise the image appeared free of jagged edges or edge enhancement. Print flaws seemed absent. At no time did I discern any signs of grain, grit, speckles, or other defects.

Unfortunately, colors caused some problems. From the very start of the film, they appeared surprisingly pale and flat. Oddly, this seemed to be a concern mainly during daytime exterior shots; interiors showed much more vivid and lively tones. When we went outside, though, the hues seemed somewhat thin and lifeless. They weren’t atrocious, but they came across as oddly faded. Interiors didn’t get away without any issues either. While the colors looked much warmer in those scenes, they could occasionally seem a bit heavy, especially during concert segments. Colored lighting looked too thick at times. Admittedly, these problems were rather minor, but they created issues I didn’t expect from such a recent film.

Overall, the movie occasionally simply seemed too bright. That was what appeared to affect the colors, and it also had a minor impact on contrast. Black levels largely looked quite good, as they seemed nicely deep and rich, and shadow detail generally appeared clear and appropriately opaque. Again, it was the daytime exteriors that looked weakest, as they seemed somewhat washed-out and faded. Low-light shots came across well, though; for example, a scene in which Aniston and Wahlberg chat in a car at night seemed very clear and distinct. Ultimately, the image of Rock Star appeared reasonably pleasing but not great for a modern flick.

Also decent but slightly disappointing was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Rock Star. Not surprisingly, the soundfield largely remained oriented in the forward spectrum. The front channels provided reasonably positive spread and definition for ambient effects, as these seemed pretty well placed and accurate. Music was less consistent, however. At times, the songs showed good stereo delineation, but at others, the track seemed to collapse into a mushier state. At its best, the mix created a fairly solid sense of arena atmosphere during those scenes, but overall, it came across as a little weak in the musical segments.

Surround usage stayed modest throughout the film. Those arena pieces showed solid echo and liveliness, and the rear channels added a good level of reinforcement to them. Otherwise, the track seemed pretty subdued in regard to surround material. Some additional musical response cropped up back there, and a few light instances of effects also appeared, but the mix kept itself to the front for the most part.

Audio quality appeared generally satisfying but inconsistent. Music was the main sticking point, as the different songs showed varying levels of fidelity. At their best, the tunes seemed reasonably distinct and vibrant, and they occasionally displayed solid low-end response. However, many times the tracks appeared muddy and murky, and they often lacked appropriate levels of bass. The music sometimes seemed a little harsh and shrill, and those tracks occasionally obscured dialogue. Speech appeared natural and clear when audible, but this wasn’t always the case; at times, the lines became somewhat buried in the mix. Effects came across a nicely vivid and accurate, though, and the pyrotechnics heard during concerts showed strong oomph and thump. In the end, the soundtrack of Rock Star had some good moments, but it seemed pretty lackluster for a recent affair.

While Rock Star includes a few supplements, it seems fairly light in that regard. Most significant is an audio commentary from director Stephen Herek. On the positive side, he offers a fair amount of interesting information during this running, screen-specific affair. Especially useful are his remarks about who sang what, and he also relates some off-screen tension along the way. At times the track degenerates into simple discussions of who the performers are, but since Rock Star features a number of actual metal players, these could be fairly useful. Hey, at one point, he even advises us to use the stillframe because we might be able to sneak a peek at Aniston’s goodies!

The main problem with the commentary stems from the many empty spaces that occur. At the start, Herek seems quite chatty and engaging, but as the track progresses, he tends to go for longer and longer periods without much information. I was also disappointed - though not terribly surprised - that he made almost no mention of the story’s factual background. I know some threatened legal machinations occurred between Judas Priest and the filmmakers, so he may have been advised not to talk about this, but considering the tale’s heavy emphasis in reality, it was a shame that we heard so little about Owens. In any case, the commentary had some good moments, but the many gaps made it a bit frustrating at times.

Otherwise, Rock Star skimps on supplements. We find Rock Star: A Backstage Look At a Legend, an extremely brief and puffy featurette. The program lasts a mere four minutes as we hear from director Herek and performers Wahlberg, Aniston, Blas Elias, and Jeff Pilson. The show’s not totally useless since we learn a little about the real-life metalheads who play in the film, but its brevity means it offers little of interest.

Next we see a music video for “Rock Star” by Everclear. The clip offers a fairly standard combination of band lip-synching and snippets of the movie. It’s a moderately bland affair, but the song’s decent, so I didn’t mind.

Lastly, we get Cast and Crew filmographies for Wahlberg, Aniston, and Herek. As with many WB DVDs, this one shows many more names, but you can only open the listings for these three participants. We also discover the movie’s theatrical trailer, presented in anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. Bizarrely, the trailed cleans up a scene that doesn’t need cleaning. During a “wild rockers” montage of Chris’ new exploits in the band, we see him and a friend drop coins on two topless women who sunbathe on a hotel balcony. They’re chest-down, so the interruption intends to get them to flip and displays their wares. Oddly, the trailer superimposes bra straps onto their backs, which a) seems pointless, for the movie shows enough footage of them before they flip to fit into the ad, and b) means that the task makes no sense. Why would Chris drop coins on the women other than to get them to give him a look at their breasts? Weird!

Considering the erratic nature of Rock Star itself, such odd inconsistencies probably shouldn’t surprise me. The film squanders some choice source material and offers a rather generic and forced tale that doesn’t go much of anywhere. The DVD provides reasonably good but unexceptional picture and sound and lacks much in the way of supplements. All told, Rock Star left me cold and did little to create a very compelling or intriguing film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8653 Stars Number of Votes: 52
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