John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Raymond J. Barry, Margo Martindale, Kristen Wiig, Chip Hormess, Conner Rayburn, Tim Meadows, Chris Parnell
Judd Apatow, Jake Kasdan
Life made him tough. Love made him strong. Music made him hard.
One of the most iconic figures in rock history, Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) had it all: the women (over 411 served), the friends (Elvis, The Beatles), and the rock 'n' roll lifestyle (a close and personal relationship with every pill and powder known to man). But most of all, he had the music that transformed a dimwitted country boy into the greatest American rock star who never lived. A wild and wicked send-up of every musical biopic ever made, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is gut-busting proof that when it comes to hard rocking, living and laughing, a hard man is good to find.
$6.257 million on 2650 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 96 min.
Release Date: 4/8/2008
• Audio Commentary with Director Jake Kasdan, Writer/Producer Judd Apatow, Executive Producer Lew Morton and Actor John C. Reilly
• Eight Full Song Performances
• Four Deleted and Extended Scenes
• “The Music of Walk Hard” Featurette
• “The Real Dewey Cox” Featurette
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Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 25, 2008)
Writer/producer Judd Apatow embraces Spinal Tap territory with 2007’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. The story starts in 1946 as we meet the titular Cox as a child (Conner Rayburn). He pals around with his brother Nate (Chip Hormess), a supremely talented pianist who Dewey accidentally chops in half. As his dying wish, Nate requests that Dewey become “doubly good” in the future.
Dewey hears some grizzled old blues men and decides that’s what he wants to do. He proves to be a blues natural and takes up the music with the encouragement of Nate’s ghost. From there we leap to 1953 to see “14-year-old” Dewey (John C. Reilly) at a high school talent show. His band plays an innocent rock song called “Take My Hand” and ignites a riot with his “radical” music.
As a result – and antagonized by his father’s (Raymond J. Barry) continued bitterness over Nate’s death – Dewey leaves home to seek his musical destiny. During an argument with his 13-year-old wife Edith (Kristen Wiig), the 15-year-old Dewey comes up with the phrase “walk hard”, which he soon adapts into a song. When the lead act at the club where he sweeps the floors gets hurt, Dewey manages to wheedle his way into the spotlight.
Dewey impresses some talent scouts during his performance, and this lands him in the recording studio. After a bunch of flop takes, Dewey hits his last change and trots out “Walk Hard”, a tune that immediately strikes a chord. Dewey immediately becomes a big star and hits the road, a path that estranges him from Edith. It doesn’t help that he soon takes drugs, indulges in multiple affairs, and falls in love with his new backup singer Darlene (Jenna Fischer). The rest of the movie follows Dewey’s trials and tribulations over the decades – and his attempts to live up to Nate’s dying wish.
Despite my earlier reference to Spinal Tap, Hard doesn’t fall into the “mockumentary” realm, as it instead lampoons recent biopics. Clearly Ray and Walk the Line act as its primary inspirations; you’ll see tons of echoes of those two flicks. It branches into its own territory at times, though always influenced by real-life musicians. For instance, when Dewey starts to break down mentally, the story goes into serious Brian Wilson mode.
I really wanted to like Hard. I think highly of most of its talent both behind and on screen, and I like the premise. I fully intended to see the flick theatrically, but bad reviews scared me away from it.
However, negative critical appraisal doesn’t doom a movie to failure, so I was open to a pleasant experience from the DVD. During the first few minutes of Hard, I thought it might have deserved better. The opening act works pretty well. I like the bits with his family in the 1940s, and Dewey’s entrance into the music business amuses. Sure, the film takes some pretty easy shots, but it pulls off the jokes in a satisfying manner.
Unfortunately, most of the laughs go bye-bye around the time Dewey starts doing drugs. No, that’s not some sort of reflection that dope ruins your life; it’s not like the filmmakers wanted Hard to become less amusing at that point. For me, however, the flick just turns more tedious and less amusing around that part.
Maybe the premise was just too thin to carry a feature film. Hard doesn’t even attempt any form of real plot. At least Spinal Tap traces the band as they disintegrate; sure, it’s episodic, but the moments create an arc. No similar thrust occurs here. Dewey does go through his changes, but they never feel natural. They exist more to create a “greatest hits” reel of music-related bio-flick clichés.
Indeed, Hard often feels more preoccupied with music history than with entertainment. It seems like the filmmakers want to impress us with the references rather than create a coherent tale. Why does Dewey go to India in 1967? To get in an easy Beatles nod. There’s no other rhyme or reason involved with that scene or many others; they exist to toss out some gags and that’s about it.
Unfortunately, many of the jokes just bomb. C’mon, forcing the Lennon character to use the word “imagine” doesn’t require cleverness, and the flick also lacks subtlety. For instance, back in the 1950s a coked-up Dewey rushes through a hard-rocking version of “Walk Hard”. That rendition is funny enough on its own, especially in the way it presages the music scene of the late 1970s. When a character telegraphs the gag with a crack that the speedy version makes Dewey “sound like a punk”, it insults the intelligence of the audience. We already got the joke; we didn’t need it rammed down our throats.
I hate to continually discuss Hard in connection to Spinal Tap, but any filmmakers who take on music movie parody must prepare themselves for those comparisons; they’re inevitable, I think. Hard doesn’t try to be the same kind of flick. Tap was a fake documentary, while Hard mocks the standard Hollywood biopic.
However, Tap works better for two reasons. First, it doesn’t get so specific. The constant references to the eras and other artists turn Hard into drudgery. Tap virtually never discusses musical peers, and it’s better for it, as it doesn’t seem so stuck on showing off its sophistication.
In addition, Tap has actual heart and interesting characters. The filmmakers worked so hard to pack in all those references that they forgot to make Dewey anything other than a cardboard cutout. He develops the traits of biopic subjects like Ray Charles and Johnny Cash but stays cartoony from start to finish. We never care about Dewey at all, so his adventures become tiresome and redundant.
Hard does have some good elements. It boasts an excellent supporting cast. One great turn comes from Jane Lynch as a clueless local TV host, and I think Jack White provides a hilariously incoherent turn as Elvis. In real life, White annoys the heck out of me, but his take on the King creates real laughs. None of the other impersonations work as well – especially in the case of the pointless and ineffective Beatles segment.
Ultimately, Walk Hard strikes me as a conglomeration of references and little character bits but nothing deeper than that. It gets in a few good laughs but wears out its welcome well before the ending arrives. After a good first act, the film winds up as a definite disappointment.
Footnote: stick around through the finish of the end credits for an odd coda.
The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie provided a pretty solid transfer.
Only a little softness cropped into the presentation. A few wide shots came across as less sharp than I’d like, but those instances occurred infrequently. The majority of the movie seemed crisp and well-defined. No issues with moiré effects or jaggies occurred, and source flaws remained absent.
Colors worked well. The movie often went with a fairly golden tint typical of the period pieces lampooned here, but that tone didn’t overwhelm things. The palette broadened in a satisfying way with some vivid hues. Blacks looked deep and dense, while shadows were clear and well-developed. This was a consistently pleasing presentation.
One would expect a flick like Walk Hard to emphasize music, and one’s expectations would be met with this good Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The score and songs displayed very nice stereo imaging and also used the surrounds to open things up in a satisfying manner. Effects played a decent role as well, though not as often. Good environmental information came along for the ride, and some more active sequences also gave us solid material. The surrounds weren’t tremendously involved, but they added good pizzazz when necessary.
At all times, audio quality succeeded. Music remained the most important element, and the various tunes and score seemed lively and full. Speech was natural and crisp, without edginess or other concerns. Effects were also distinctive and vivid, and the track boasted nice low-end response. I liked this fine soundtrack.
When we shift to the set’s extras, we begin with an audio commentary from director Jake Kasdan, writer/producer Judd Apatow, executive producer Lew Morton and actor John C. Reilly. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. The commentary looks at the project’s roots and some development, how Apatow got the participants on board, cast, characters and performances, script choices and altered/abandoned concepts, music, cinematic inspirations and influences, and a few other production stories.
Like other commentaries for Apatow flicks, this one becomes informative and entertaining. It covers the appropriate aspects of the movie well and does so with style. It’s a fun listen that serves the film nicely.
For more music we get eight Full Song Performances. These include “Walk Hard”, “A Life Without You”, “Guilty As Charged”, “Dear Mr. President”, “Royal Jelly”, “Starman”, “(You Make Me So) Hard” and “Walk Hard (All Star Band)”. Taken together via the “Play All” option, they fill a total of 23 minutes, 24 seconds. All of these are good to see, though a few are more interesting than others. “President” reveals a lot of lyrics not in the final film, and in this “Jelly” we see Dewey’s on the Ed Sullivan Show. “(You Make Me So) Hard” is the full Lil’ Nutzzak music video in all its glory; with its insanely raunchy lyrics, it’s a hoot. This is a good collection of pieces.
Four Deleted and Extended Scenes go for a total of 11 minutes, eight seconds. We find “Drug Deal” (1:10), “Rehab #1” (3:30), “Beatles” (4:25) and “Alternate Acid Trip” (2:00). “Beatles” is the least interesting to me, perhaps because I don’t like the shorter scene in the final flick; more of that stuff doesn’t amuse me. I actually prefer the “Alternate Acid Trip” to the animated one, though, and the other two have some funny bits.
A staple of Apatow DVDs, Line-O-Rama runs six minutes, 22 seconds. As always, it features alternate takes of certain scenes. These include a fair amount of interesting twists, so they’re entertaining to see.
Two featurettes follow. The Music of Walk Hard occupies 16 minutes, 42 seconds with notes from Reilly, Kasdan, Apatow, Morton, composer/music producer Michael Andrews, songwriters Dan Bern, Mike Viola, Charles Wadhams and Tom Wolfe, music supervisor Manish Raval, and actors Jenna Fischer, Jewel, Ghostface Killah, Jackson Browne and Lyle Lovett. The show looks at most of the film’s tunes and performances. Some great behind the scenes footage appears, and the comments help make this an informative little piece.
Finally, The Real Dewey Cox lasts 14 minutes, three seconds and features notes from Reilly, Lovett, Browne, Jewel, Ghostface Killah, Kasdan, Apatow, actors Matt Besser, Ed Helms, Kristen Wiig, David Krumholtz, Margo Martindale, Tim Meadows, Cheryl Tiegs and Harold Ramis, producer Clayton Townsend, and musicians John Mayer, Sarah Evans, Sheryl Crow, Van Zandt, and Brad and Kimberly Paisley. This one looks at the influence of the “real” Dewey Cox and the challenges behind making a biopic. Yes, it’s a goof as it jokes about the truth of the matter, but it’s a fun goof, even with about 10 million “cox” jokes.
A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Steep and Blu-ray Discs. These also appear in the Previews area along with promos for Superbad, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Hancock, Across the Universe, We Own the Night, 30 Days of Night, Southland Tales, Monty Python’s Life of Brian and 88 Minutes.
Despite my hopes that it’d provide a great little parody, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story only occasionally entertains. It provides a fine cast and a smattering of solid laughs, but most of it just plods along without much point or wit. The DVD offers very good picture and audio as well as a fun collection of extras. I’m not wild about the movie, but I feel quite satisfied with this release.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1176 Stars|| Number of Votes: 17|