Movie spoofs in the post-Zucker/Mel Brooks era have been almost universally disappointing. Classics like “Kentucky Fried Movie,” “Blazing Saddles,” and “Airplane” still represent the high water mark of the genre, and haven’t honestly been approached in decades. That hasn’t stopped studios from producing them, but recent efforts hover at the lower rungs of movie quality, from mildly amusing (the first “Scary Movie”) to uninspired (any of the other “Scary Movies”) to migraine-inducing (“Date Movie”).
Granted, the Wayans Brothers aren’t the Zuckers, and “Scary Movie” scribe Jason Friedberg is no Mel Brooks (hell, Mel Brooks hasn’t been Mel Brooks since “High Anxiety”), for they lack whatever third eye is necessary to produce consistently humorous and on-target satire. After watching “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” I’m not prepared to crown writers Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan (who also directed) the heirs apparent to Samuel R. Bronkowitz, but given the other options, they end up winning by default.
A send-up of “Walk the Line” (with nods to other musical biopics like “Ray”), “Walk Hard” stars John C. Reilly as Dewey Cox, the Johnny Cash analog whose career mirrors the rise/fall/rise parabola seen in most such films. Like Cash, Cox sees his young brother die in a horrible tragedy and has to deal with a father whose affections clearly lay with his dead son (a running gag has the elder Cox popping up every so often to remind Dewey that “the wrong son” died, sometimes in song form). Undaunted, Dewey runs off with his fecund young wife to ply his trade. Initial success comes, as was so often the case, from ripping off black artists, and Cox soon finds himself subjected to fame’s many temptations: specifically drugs – Tim Meadows, usually comedy’s Grim Reaper, is actually quite good as the drummer who provides Dewey access to narcotics – and another woman, in the person of fellow singer Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer).
Itemizing every gag that works and every “surprise” cameo wouldn’t be very enjoyable for you, nor would pointing out the jokes that miss the mark. However I will say that the Shar Pei-faced Reilly is an inspired choice for the lead, and the scene with Dewey in India with the Beatles was a high point. Conversely, the insistent (and perhaps inevitable) play on the name “Cox” was not (it was less than 30 seconds before the first “I need Cox” line…I timed it). More surprising to me was the quality of the music. Rather than bang out a few Weird Al style Cash parodies, Apatow and Kasdan appear to have put some actual thought into the soundtrack, and it’s deserving of repeat listens.
In short, I can’t decide if I laughed at “Walk Hard” because of the quality of the humor, or because it’s simply that much better than similar recent fare. In reality, even someone with Apatow’s pedigree can only do so much to salvage the movie spoof. “Spy Hard” and the like have proven a movie that’s nothing more than an 80-minute rehash of one-liners and C-grade celebrity cameos (Carmen Electra must work pretty cheap) can be profitable. “Walk Hard” has it’s moments, but will Apatow or anybody else continue to make the effort when guys like Jason Friedberg can crap out their annual goof on the year’s biggest movies (case in point, “Meet the Spartans,” opening next month) and guarantee a $20 million opening?
Is “Walk Hard” funny? Sure; very much so, in places. At least I think it is. It might just be the “Date Movie” talking.