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Movie Review: Walk Hard

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Written by Kasdan and Judd Apatow

I’m conflicted about Jake Kasdan because he’s brought me one of my favorite movies, Zero Effect, but ever since he’s doled out Orange County and The TV Set, movies well beneath his powers. Meanwhile, who doesn’t know about Apatow? With Knocked Up and a producer’s gig on Superbad, this guy has been on fire this year. But Apatow, if you look at other producing/writing credits, is fallible just like any human.

So when I looked at the trailer for Walk Hard, I saw great potential mixed with dread. It looked like it had a great target: the awards-hungry biopic, but it also looked like it might overshoot on some gags. It had hit-and-miss all over it.

Walk Hard focuses on Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly), a mixture of Ray Charles and especially Johnny Cash. At a young age (Conner Rayburn), he splits his brother in half with a machete and goes “smell-blind.” His brother tells him that he needs to be “double-great” for the both of them, so Cox tries singing. He starts at 14 (and hilariously, this is when Reilly starts playing Cox), and sings a song about holding hands that is considered sinful. His dad (Raymond J. Barry) keeps telling him “the wrong kid died.”

So Cox takes his 12-year-old girlfriend Edith (Kristen Wiig) away, and hopes to make it big in the music industry. He meets his band, which includes Theo (Chris Parnell), Sam (Tim Meadows), and Dave (Matt Besser) after filling in for club singer Bobby Shad (Craig Robinson), and much like Walk the Line where Johnny Cash can’t make it with the songs they’ve come up with together, Cox does his own stuff and impresses the record exec. It’s not long before Cox becomes famous.

But he doesn’t have any support from his now-wife Edith, who always has three kids in the crib, two on her arms, and one in the belly. And he starts getting into drugs with the help of Sam, in one of the funniest recurring gags in the film. And, he begins a relationship with duet partner Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer), filled with frustrating, and funny, sexual tension.

The movie takes on the usual trappings of the biopic from there, the battles with drugs, aging, and relationships. It can be hilarious. And there are areas that aren’t funny, too. Overshooting on a gag often kills it, like the scene where Dewey chops his brother in half. Plus, Walk Hard relies a lot on what I’ll call “exposition comedy.” It can be funny to hear Cox refer to every member of the Beatles (and other famous people) by their first and last names, and include “of the Beatles” here and there. It can also be funny to hear the characters refer to their respective ages as the film progresses. But it can be overdone as well. In the Beatles scene, a guru says, “Beatles! Stop fighting here in India!” There are some things from the trailer that aren’t in here, and I thought the movie skimped out on some things to keep a 90-minute length.

This movie tips over on the side of funny, though, despite an overeliance on some recurring gags. The songs are good, too. It’s better than most of the comedies this year, even ones I’ve probably given more glowing reviews than this particular one (Blades of Glory, Heartbreak Kid, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry come to mind). I am, in general, a sucker for comedies, and if they give me a few things to laugh at in 90 minutes I’m usually onboard.

Walk Hard is overall very fun and worth the watch.

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