It's a bit weird that, in the midst of all these major studio films coming out at the same time, vying for Oscars (Sweeney Todd, The Kite Runner, Charlie Wilson's War, et al), I'd choose to see the wacky comedy Walk Hard instead.
Here's my excuse: My wife works for singer/songwriter Dan Bern, who contributed several of the funnier songs on the Walk Hard soundtrack. His work – and that of the other songwriters, including Mike Viola and Marshall Crenshaw – is great. Funny, authentic, and well-crafted. A clever tour through rock history from some smart recording artists who know their stuff. It's a shame that the quality of the movie itself doesn't match that of its soundtrack.
Walk Hard is an amiably silly sendup of musician biopics in general, and the Johnny Cash film Walk the Line specifically. The ever-reliable John C. Reilly, who looks like he's having the time of his life, stars as the titular Cox, a dumb Southern boy who makes it big in the '50s, then suffers through a downward spiral of drugs and infidelity through the '60s and '70s.
At just over an hour and a half, the film feels rushed – supposedly, the first cut was two and a half hours long, matching the epic sweep of Walk the Line and Ray – and this severe slimming-down suggests why many of the best songs on the soundtrack are nowhere to be found in the movie itself. This is definitely one title to catch on DVD, which is sure to be loaded with deleted footage.
There's nothing really bad about Walk Hard. It just could have been funnier, sharper, and more surprising. Writer/director Jake Kasdan and cowriter/producer Judd Apatow have proven, both together (the much-loved Freaks & Geeks TV series, the underrated feature The TV Set) and separately (Kasdan with Zero Effect, Apatow with The 40-Year-Old Virgin), that they are better at being smart and honest than they are at being dumb and zany. As a result, the script for Walk Hard feels like it was developed to an "adequate enough" level by the two, hoping that the songs, the considerable amount of cast improvisation, and Reilly's enthusiasm would raise it to a point of non-stop hilarity.
But even from a generous opening night audience (my wife was excited to see Dan Bern's work – and you can see him, briefly, as a piano player during the last big song number), the laughter was real but came too sporadically. The jokes just weren't that good. Many comedies feel like they're trying too hard. Walk Hard feels like it's not trying hard enough. Even with its well-deserved R rating, it doesn't feel at all risky or new. Still, it's a fun time, though best experienced at home with your drunken buddies. And the soundtrack really is terrific. Spend your Christmas dollars on that and watch the movie later.