Screenplay : John Stockwell
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Mark Wahlberg (Chris "Izzy" Coles), Jennifer Aniston (Emily Poule), Dominic West (Kirk Cuddy), Timothy Olyphant (Rob "Monster" Malcolm), Timothy Spall (Mats), Dagmara Dominczyk (Tania), Jason Flemyng (Bobby Beers)
Based loosely on the true story of Tim "Ripper" Owens, an office-equipment salesman from Ohio who was chosen to fill the empty spot left by Rob Halford when he quit in 1993 as lead singer of the British heavy-metal band Judas Priest, Rock Star is a glossy and shallow morality tale about a fast ascent to rock stardom. It's a would-be epic that simply doesn't have the emotional core needed to sustain its wild narrative ride. Plus, after so many years of VH-1's Behind the Music and The E! True Hollywood Story, a tale of innocence corrupted at the uninhibited alter of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll simply doesn't have much originality, and it certainly pales in comparison to some of the real stories out there in terms of guilty-pleasure melodramatic shock value.
The story takes place sometime in the mid-1980s, when big-hair heavy metal ruled the airwaves and bands such as Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Warrant, Poison, Skid Row, Def Leppard, and the like were a dime a dozen. Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, The Perfect Storm) stars as Chris Coles, a young man in his 20s who still lives at home with his working-class parents in a Pennsylvania steel town. By day, he works as an office equipment repairman, but by night he lives out a fantasy rock-star career by headlining a tribute band called Blood Pollution that covers the songs and the look of fictional heavy-metal headliners Steel Dragon.
While the other members of his band see Blood Pollution as a step to making their own music, Chris, in his obsessive worship of Steel Dragon, does it for the sheer love of being in the shoes of his idol. He can't imagine anything better than singing Steel Dragon's songs exactly as they sing them. But, despite this borderline obsessive-compulsive nature, the movie seems to go out of its way to establish that Chris is, despite his long hair and screw-the-establishment rock mentality, really a good guy, someone who not only gets along with his loving parents, but even sings in the church choir.
When Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng), the lead singer of Steel Dragon, is fired from the group, the band calls Chris in for an audition after seeing a videotape of one of his performances. Being a talented singer who knows everything Steel Dragon has done by heart, Chris is given the job of lead singer, re-christened "Izzy," and quickly put on-stage before stadium-capacity crowds of thumping headbangers. The fantasy becomes reality.
There is a certain draw to this fantastical scenario, especially for anyone who has ever found him- or herself fantasizing about filling the shoes of a pop-culture icon. The movie has a few interesting detours into questions about the legitimacy of building one's fantasy life around someone else's actual life, but it never delves too deeply into the cultural quagmire it mines for its story. Instead, it is more than content to follow a carefully prescribed and oft-trodden course that tracks Chris's rise and fall as a rock superstar, where he learns the lesson anyone who has ever watched Behind the Music already knows: It's not always great at the top.
A large part of the story involves the effects of Chris's new life on his girlfriend and manager, Emily (Jennifer Aniston). While Emily could have easily been sidelined, the script by John Stockwell (crazy/beautiful), with some crucial, uncredited rewriting by Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise), allows her to emerge as the strongest character in the movie. Not content to be a shallow rock-star wife who rides behind the tour bus in a limo getting drunk and accepting that her husband is fooling around with groupies, Emily makes the decision early on to leave the scene and make her own way. Unfortunately, the effect this has on the story is that she simply disappears from the movie for long stretches as a time, leaving Chris to revel in his newfound debauchery.
Director Stephen Herek (Mr. Holland's Opus) doesn't seem to have the true gumption needed to make a sordid morality tale like this; he lacks the polished skill of Martin Scorsese or the simple, confident determinism of Paul Thomas Anderson, two directors whom he is obviously trying to emulate. He pulls off a few scenes quite nicely, including a depraved evening in which Chris and Emily are first introduced to the world of pill-popping and group sex. Herek mines a great deal of dangerous eroticism out of the scene without actually showing all that much.
Yet, the concert scenes are almost uniformly boring because they are shot just like music videos, with no real visual ingenuity. The movie offers a certain guilty enjoyment of the inch-deep meaning of glam metal in the 1980s, especially when the soundtrack starts thundering with the screeching vocals of Def Leppard's "Let's Get Rocked" or Motley Crue's "Wild Side." Yet, the movie never fully transcends the shallow depth of its subject matter, and it turns out to be little more than a cinematic version of hair metal--all surface and no substance.
Copyright © 2001 James Kendrick