Rated R - Running Time: 1:45 - Released 9/7/01

For many teen boys, the idea of being a rock star is a cherished fantasy; playing or singing in front of thousands of screaming fans, and being loved by virtually every one of them, would be a fairy tale come true. And that's exactly how Stephen Herek's Rock Star comes off: a fantasy, a fairy tale. Not grounded in reality. Though the film is filled with impressive scenes of huge arena concerts, John Stockwell's script paints its characters as flat as pictures on an album cover; even the leading man (played by ex-rapper "Marky" Mark Wahlberg) is undeveloped beyond what is required of the most traditional perceptions. If director Herek, whose most notable output has been 1995's Mr. Holland's Opus, had a better actor to play the part, perhaps it could have been a more important, or at least more engaging, film. But Wahlberg, who starred most recently in Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes, doesn't have the technique to correct the problems in Stockwell's simplistic text. A veteran of arena stage concerts, Wahlberg's obviously got the moves and the attitude, but in offstage moments where more complex characterization is needed, he flounders.

Wahlberg's co-star, Jennifer Aniston, is another story. Although her part, the faithful girlfriend squeezed out of her man's life by the pressures and temptations of fame that are heaped upon him, is as trite as all the others, Aniston is able to give her character life. She seems the only actor in this movie capable of doing that.

In an early scene of Rock Star, Wahlberg compares himself to a cardboard cutout. How apropos. His character, Chris Coles, is the lead singer of a Pittsburgh tribute band patterned after the British metal group "Steel Dragon." Learning that the real lead singer, a frothy-haired babe magnet and sex symbol (who is really a mincing, balding homosexual in a wig played by Jason Flemyng) is retiring, Chris auditions and wins the coveted spot as the band's new front man. Though his girlfriend Emily (Aniston) initially shares in the excitement, his instantaneous injection-molding into the rock 'n roll lifestyle has a devastating effect on their relationship. After watching him be surrounded by fabulous babes and various other hangers-on, and not even being allowed to travel on the band bus with him, Emily decides to move to Seattle and start her own life. Chris, who now fakes an English accent and goes by the moniker "Izzy," is forced to choose between the reality of her love and the fantasy of his new occupation.

That this film has a relatively large cast of seemingly important characters makes it all the more surprising how few of those characters are developed. For instance, though the Steel Dragon band has four other members, only one of them (Dominic West) has any significant speaking scenes. This may be because the rest of the band is made up of real rock musicians (Jason Bonham, son of late Zeppelin drummer John Bonham; Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson; and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde) who can't act their way out of a wet paper bag, but still one would expect to learn a little more about them than where they stand on the stage. In addition to Aniston, reasonably credible performances are given by West and Timothy Spall (as the band's stage manager), but their short footage can't save this film from the inadequacies of its creative team.

Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous gave us a fascinating backstage peek at American rock concerts, filled with interesting and believable characters. Rock Star is a fable with the imagination of a teenybopper and the sensibilities of an after-school special. Like a favorite selection from a box of old albums, it looks and sounds good but is flat and flimsy in substance. ***½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

Current | Archives | Oscars | About | E-Mail