At first this “Walk the Line” sendup sounds more like a sketch than a movie, before director Jake Kasdan and co-writer/producer Judd Apatow broaden it to include every tic of the musical biopic, from “The Buddy Holly Story” through the current wave. “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” thus strums the genre for considerable laughs, with John C. Reilly playing the title balladeer from teen to senior citizen, generating enough goodwill to offset the flat sections and a decidedly juvenile streak. While unlikely to rival Apatow’s recent hits, box office should sing a merry little tune as a raunchy Oscar-bait alternative.
Hewing more toward “Airplane!” territory than he has previously, Apatow incorporates members of his repertory company in what amounts to a variety of amusing cameos, such as Paul Rudd popping up as one of the Beatles. For whatever reason, this Sony release also features a vast assortment of NBC’s comedy talent, starting with “The Office’s” Jenna Fischer and “Saturday Night Live’s” Kristen Wiig as the protagonist’s overlapping wives.
Infused with a adolescent streak that revels in its R rating and never seems to tire of puns derived from Dewey’s last name, pic dutifully chronicles the life of Reilly’s Cox from well-telegraphed boyhood tragedy to unexpected stardom to drug abuse, despite half-hearted “You don’t want to try this” warnings from band member Sam (Tim Meadows).
Along the way, Apatow and Kasdan (coming off the satirical “The TV Set”) zero in on a surprising number of spoof-worthy conventions within these films: The star playing his character starting at a ridiculously young age (when Reilly takes over as Dewey, he’s 14); black characters bursting into raucous dance when a budding white singer lets loose; nurturing Jewish (here, Hassidic) record executives; and the excess that invariably accompanies stardom — in Dewey’s case, not just drugs but destructive rages that consistently wreak havoc on bathroom fixtures.
Having worked out his comedy chops for Apatow in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” Reilly not only belts out the double-entendre-laden tunes — one of which sounds impressively like Roy Orbison — but unabashedly dives into the silliness of the role. Fischer also makes the most of her turn as the backup singer who wins Dewey’s heart but, much to his chagrin, keeps withholding her body.
“Walk Hard” employs a quartet of songwriters — among them Marshall Crenshaw — to cleverly craft Dewey’s songography, which should yield a dynamite tie-in novelty soundtrack. One suspects many a young lad will find himself humming, “In my dreams, you’re blowin’ me (pause) sweet kisses,” perhaps even inadvertently.
By its very nature, the movie is episodic in its chronological stroll through Dewey’s fictional life, and not all the bits (among them a “Yellow Submarine”-like acid trip) work equally well. Fortunately, there’s a general exuberance and fondness for the musical material that eases the rough spots, down to meticulous technical touches ranging from the evolving costumes and hairdos to the conspicuous makeup as Dewey enters his “Driving Miss Daisy” years.
For Apatow, “Walk Hard” also continues to demonstrate that gleefully embracing R-rated comedy needn’t be reserved for DVD extras; rather, it’s possible to walk hard, laugh hard and still earn hard — a formula that’s surely music to any studio’s ears.