Steel Dragon is the number one heavy metal band in the world, and for Chris Cole (Mark Wahlberg), they are true metal gods. The year is 1985, and after being kicked out of his own Steel Dragon tribute band, Chris is contacted by Steel Dragon guitarist Kirk Cuddy (Dominic West, "28 Days") to come to Los Angeles and audition for the recently vacated lead singer spot. Proving himself vastly qualified, Chris joins the band and instantaneously becomes swallowed by the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, much to the dismay of his longtime girlfriend Emily (Jennifer Aniston). As Chris lives up the lifestyle he's always wanted, he is also sacrificing the simple life he once enjoyed.
The words "Directed by Stephen Herek" appearing on the screen doesn't inspire the greatest confidence when walking into "Rock Star" (IMDb listing). After a promising start in the late 1980s with such cult classics as "Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Critters," Herek stumbled into the '90s as a Disney lackey with such pitiful duds as "The Mighty Ducks," "The Three Musketeers," the detestable "101 Dalmatians" and the Eddie Murphy laugh-free comedy "Holy Man." Blinded by the big box office numbers and family values, Herek somehow forgot how to make a real movie, instead focusing on cinematic sacrifices offered up to the great god Mickey Mouse.
With "Rock Star," Herek has finally come back home. Though ultimately crushed by convention, "Rock Star" is still rollicking entertainment. It's a film that truly has love for the kingdom of heavy metal.
It would be very easy for this picture to make fun of the heavy metal genre of music, and on top of that, the late '80s rock world of drugs, sex and general excess. Yet, in a rare showing of restraint, Herek and screenwriter John Stockwell ("crazy/beautiful") show nothing but absolute reverence for the era and sounds. And they get the details right too. From the perfect arcs in the vast tangles of metal hair to the lewd squeals of a guitar solo, "Rock Star" is one of the few metal-themed films to simply revel in the period. The knee-jerk reaction would be to "Spinal Tap" the film. Thankfully, Herek and Stockwell don't buy into that hackneyed outlook.
As unlikely a choice for the lead role of Chris as he is, former homeboy Mark Wahlberg dives right into the role with enthusiasm I wish he would've brought to his summer hit "Planet Of The Apes." Filled with a headbanging glow, Wahlberg plunges into the role of a "wannabe who got to be" unlike any of his performances before. He's lost the brood and swagger I've come to expect, and instead attempts to find Chris' awe and unconditional joy in performing in front of 10,000 people. I also believe Wahlberg's acting here is some of the best of this year.
Though Jennifer Aniston has the smaller role as Chris' dispensable girlfriend, she somehow is the conduit for the heart of the film. It seems to be her gift. Herek wisely chooses to focus on her empathetic face, and with help from real life metal all-stars like Jason Bonham (showing surprising depth as Steel Dragon's drummer), Zakk Wylde, Blas Elias, Brian Vander Ark and Stephen Jenkins, the cast forms a nice, tight rhythm section to Wahlberg's commanding lead performance.
For the first 60 minutes of "Rock Star," I couldn't imagine an outside world past the four walls of the movie theater. The film grabs you and takes you on a journey of metal insanity, discovery and isolation. "Rock Star" actually has one of the more humorous and blissful opening acts I've ever seen in a film. It moves so briskly and freely that when the dramatic brakes are applied, the picture stops dead instead of merely slowing down to settle the story.
Coming in the form of a dark descent into drugs, sex and booze, Chris' character arc is seen to its midway point rather clumsily. This is familiar theatrical trajectory for a rags to riches story, and it does "Rock Star" no favors. I would've rather seen a deeper development of the relationship between Chris and Steel Dragon, or at least some more emotionally intimate scenes with Emily in place of the "Boogie Nights" type downward spiral of fame. This might be an accurate portrayal of the metal scene, but this is far too cliched for any film to bear.
While the needless drama doesn't cripple the picture, it does hamper the fun. Herek seems to know this as well, as he scrambles in the final act to rekindle what was lost. What remains of "Rock Star" is more than enough to delight. It also ends up leaving the audience with a little contact high from the desire you secretly hold inside to be onstage with your favorite band.
Filmfodder Grade: B+