Rock Star
directed by Stephen Herek
(Columbia TriStar, 2001)

Big drums, big dreams, big hair -- the '80s had them all. Now we have them, too, thanks to Stephen Herek's ode to heavy-metal music, Rock Star.

Rock Star is the story of Chris Cole (Mark Wahlberg), a 30ish copy machine repairman whose dream in life is to copy heavy-metal idol Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng) note for note, gesture for gesture, nipple ring for nipple ring. Cole, who sings for a tribute band, gets his chance when Beers quits the "tributed" band, Steel Dragon, which then holds tryouts in search of a replacement.

If you can't guess the rest, then you haven't been paying attention, or you don't get out very often.

Rock Star has a number of things going for it: a better-than expected score, some patches of first-rate cinematography and a standout performance by Wahlberg, who, before he became a matinee idol, recorded two CDs and toured as Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch.

So Wahlberg is right at home here, both onstage and backstage. The best scenes are his, and they're often small but pivotal moments that stand in stark contrast to the thundering arena shows that dominate the film. In one, he stands behind a wall of recording studio glass, watching anxiously as the members of Steel Dragon decide his musical fate, but unable to hear a word they're saying; in another, he rides the elevator to the stage for his first performance as a Dragon.

The look on his face tells all. He's out of his element here, and he knows it. But he's not going to let that stop him.

Unfortunately, Rock Star doesn't go there often enough, and when it does, it doesn't stay long. Instead, it focuses more on the breakdown of Cole's relationship with his longtime girlfriend/manager Emily (Jennifer Aniston), who's a bit too lightweight for the heavy metal world, and with Cole's growing realization that he done his old bandmates wrong.

Heavy-metal moral drama? Spare me.

Rock Star is at its best when it concentrates on visual images -- a crescent moon arcing across the sky in fast motion, Emily piercing Cole's not-quite frozen nipple with a sewing needle, Cole making his first trip through the gauntlet of star-struck fans, the strobe-fed erotic nightmare of Cole's first post-concert private party -- or developing sympathetic backstage character like Mats (Timothy Spall), the band's road manager and the only person in the film with a sense of perspective.

It's at its worst when it's trying to flesh out Cole's background with characters that are often too good to be true -- like his parents (Michael Shamus Wiles and Beth Grant) -- or too bad to be believable -- his brother, Joe (Matthew Glove), a local police officer and Air Supply fan.

The result is a mixed bag -- hardly great drama, but surprisingly good theater, recreating the heavy-metal concert scene of the '80s right down to the last mascara-sketched detail.

No doubt it will even draw comparisons with the great heavy-metal mockumentary of the '80s, This is Spinal Tap. And no doubt it will come in a distant second.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]
Rambles: 6 July 2002

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