Surprisingly, ‘The Rocker’ Rocks

What's that? The Rocker Rocks?

Sometimes, a movie can surprise you. With so many weak comedy vehicles coming out nowadays, it’s no wonder I expected Rainn Wilson’s first solo starring role in The Rocker to suck.

That’s where I was surprised.

The movie starts on unstable ground. We’re back in 1988, and Robert “Fish” Fishman (Wilson) is playing drums for the up-and-coming metal band Vesuvius. Right when the band’s ready to sign to a powerful label, they dump Fish from the line-up. While the opening scene is only so-so, it’s when Fish chases down the band’s Chevy lovin’ van on foot that we see a taste of the slapstick and physical comedy to come.

Flash forward twenty years. Fish is stuck in a dead-end job as he watches Vesuvius continually break records to become the most awesome band on the plant. After losing his job and his apartment, Fish goes to live with his sister. While mooching off them, he steps up for his nephew’s garage band to play the prom, and this leads a winding path for him to become a rocker again.

One of the best things about this film is the insane commitment that Wilson has to get a laugh. Whether he’s stripping down naked to play the drums or taking a pratfall for a cheap gag, he nails it every time. There are moments where the comedy falters and the plot slows down, but Wilson’s always there to build things up again, whether he’s making has-been rocker jokes or just showing the world how pathetic his character can be.

Too many comedies either pull their punches, seem to be made for the wrong star or just plain imitate the Judd Apatow canon. The Rocker does none of this. While he uses some Apatow-esque actors, I never felt like I was getting a low-rent version of Superbad. It’s not that the jokes are terribly unique or that the movie seemed like a Will Ferrell comedy that never landed Will Ferrell as the lead.

Rather, The Rocker works by just being itself and not trying to live up to the other comedies out there. In this sense, the film exists in its own little vacuum which insulates it from being compared too much to other movies.

Rainn Wilson surprises as he carries the film, and he helps deliver one of the funnier movies out in cinemas right now, and it’s up against some competition. While this August seems a bit shaky on big budget event films, it’s cleaning up in the comedy department. Alongside Pineapple Express (the weakest of the pack, in my opinion), Tropic Thunder, Hamlet 2 and now The Rocker, it’s turning out to be quite a hilarious month… which makes me want to brace myself for next week’s Disaster Movie.

THE UPSIDE: It’s great to see a non-face-man like Wilson carry a movie so effectively.

THE DOWNSIDE: A shifting release date and following up Tropic Thunder might hurt the box office of this film.

ON THE SIDE: While Step Brothers was funny, I like Rainn Wilson better as a naked drummer.

Grade: B+

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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