The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Rock Star’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked the 2001 film “Rock Star.”

The info:

The Movie: “Rock Star” (2001)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston, Timothy Spall

Director: Stephen Herek

Plot Summary: (From Netflix) A wannabe singer gets to live his wildest dream when he’s whisked from anonymity to being the frontman for the enormously popular band he worships.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 52 percent

Our take:

Brown: So last week, we got to see one of the most critically-acclaimed movies of my lifetime. Now, we get Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston.

I’m a huge fan of the heavy metal band Judas Priest, and this movie is supposed to be an interpretation of when Rob Halford left Priest and was replaced by Tim “Ripper” Owens, who was a fan that eventually led the legendary group. And, this is a very loose interpretation of that story.

So Froemming, was this movie the rock star dream you envisioned as a youth working at a record store in St. Cloud?

Froemming: This was more like every cliche I ever saw in a VH1 “Behind the Music” episode. OK, this was originally going to be Owens’ biopic of replacing Halford in Judas Priest, but when the filmmakers refused to give the band creative control over the script, they backed out and refused the rights to their story.

Brown: I gotta say, it’s funny you bring up the “Behind the Music” vibes, because that’s exactly how this movie starts.

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Froemming: It is bookended with a mock version of a “Behind the Music.” I say it would have been a better movie if they stuck to the faux-documentary style. Because this movie is like “Spinal Tap” without the humor, talent or entertainment value. So I guess it is nothing like “Spinal Tap” beyond being about an 80s metal band.

Brown: Well, I’ll delve into the beginning, where we’re introduced to Chris Cole: Office printer repairman by day, rock god by night. Well, he’s as much a god as George Bluth is in the Christmas episode of “Arrested Development.”

Chris plays in a cover band (no, wait, TRIBUTE band. The movie is very clear about this) called Blood Pollution, which performs as legendary metal band Steel Dragon. And, they do have some chops, but man, this movie really goes over the top with how popular a cover band is in Pittsburgh. What cover band has ever played in a packed steel mill with pyro, a full soundboard and a professional light show?

Froemming: Not only that, there is a rival Steel Dragon tribute band in this movie. Dear God, that was just bizarre. So, Cole is unhealthily obsessed with this band to the point he remembers what kind of colors on a jacket the lead singer wore on a particular tour. I mean, this whole premise is beyond words in its weirdness.

Brown: It is the dumbest fight I’ve seen in a movie. It’s an argument over which one of their lame bands is the lamest. At least after that scene, we get the introduction to one of the few likable characters in this film in Chris’ older brother, who went the straight-laced lifestyle and became a cop. And the movie tries to play up how lame the brother is by making him a cop in the city of Keystone (Keystone cop, get it? Real subtle, movie). And he asks the question that is repeated over and over: Chris is an impersonator rock star. Why not do your own thing instead of mooching off the success of another act?

Froemming: Exactly. I thought it was funny that they tried to make the brother a bad guy here, because he finds Chris’ life a joke. Which it is.

Now this leads into one of the better scenes in the film, where Chris’ bandmates (after a really dumb fight onstage regarding a guitar solo that wasn’t on the record version of the song) decide to boot him from the band, because they are sick of being posers, and want to create their own music.

Chris wants to play other people’s music for a living. It would almost be tragic, if it were not so idiotic.

I am so glad that Timothy Olyphant’s career wasn’t destroyed by this movie. I mean, there is a lot of talented people in this, and it still is a pretty bad movie.

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Brown: One of those people that has talent, I guess, is Jennifer Aniston as Emily, Chris’ girlfriend and manager. She’s there as Chris is kicked out of Blood Pollution and she will not stay to manage them because “the talent just walked out.” Hey, dumb-dumb: There’s having talent AND there’s having talent and ambition. Chris does not have ambition. If you’re a businesswoman like you say you are, you should probably help the guys who want to succeed instead of being with the guy content with staying under the glass ceiling.

Froemming: Yeah, but again, why would a tribute band need a manager anyway? I mean, it is not like a tribute band would ever get a record deal or anything. It is like all these adult people are living in a fantasy.

Brown: But Chris’ fantasy becomes reality because Steel Dragon needs a new singer! With the original singer, Bobby Beers, missing practice and being a closeted homosexual, they start bringing in replacements and Chris is chosen. And Chris becomes Izzy, who talks in a phony British accent and does not change his look from Bobby’s at all. This is “Avatar: The Rock Band.”

I will say this: When Bobby gets kicked out of the band, I did enjoy seeing him go into the same kind of childish tantrum that Chris went into when he was booted from Blood Pollution.

Froemming: There were a few callbacks like that in this film. But let’s get back to Bobby Beers, it felt so shoehorned to make him gay. And then to kind of mock him for it and kick him out of the band. I get it because Halford is a homosexual, but man, it added nothing to the story beyond a couple of mean-spirited gay jokes.

Brown: Not to mention that when the credits start rolling at the end, the first thing they show is one of those “Behind the Music” interviews with Bobby and he joined a River Dance-like group to perform on stage. It was obviously done because in real life, Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford is gay. And in its few glimpses, this movie really likes to play up the gay stereotypes.

Froemming: Yeah, it just rubbed me the wrong way. But here we have Chris now replacing his idol and living the rockstar dream, which includes — again — every damn cliche from a “Behind the Music” episode and an unofficial Led Zeppelin biography. Including a truly weird orgy scene, because hey, why not?

Brown: Because sex, drugs and rock & roll! But you’re absolutely right. Scattered through the movie, we have the band gluing furniture onto the hotel room ceiling, motorcycles driving through said hotel and the band shooting shotguns at highway signs. They wanted this to be Judas Priest and what we got was a lame Motley Crue. We got Winger.

Froemming: And we see Emily have to endure her boyfriend living this lifestyle, because that’s just the way it is I guess, in this world. But she decides to go into a business venture in (SURPRISE!)  Seattle!  Hint, hint: Seattle was the home of grunge, which allegedly killed the 80s metal genre. But she should have probably left a lot sooner, because that just seemed cruel to truck the band’s significant others on tour as they are having sex with random groupies.

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Brown: Maybe I missed it, but what was Emily’s business venture? When (SPOILER!) we see Chris go to Seattle at the end, we see Emily working in a coffee shop. Geez, every Jennifer Aniston role has to involve a coffee shop.

Froemming: They agree to meet again once Steel Dragon hits Seattle on its tour. And she visits a very messed-up Chris, who has no idea what city he is even in. I mean, at this point, the movie was giving me a nasty headache because the plot is so all over the map. I had no idea what this movie was trying to do.

Brown: I had that in my notes, too: This movie has an identity crisis. Is it supposed to be about a guy getting to live his dream but finding it isn’t what he wants, or is it Chris trying to find what’s truly important with his lady? There is one clear thing about the movie’s identity: it does not rock.

Froemming: No, it sure does not. Chris (or Izzy or whatever the hell he goes by in this film) wants to finally break from his shell and contribute songs to the next Steel Dragon record, and is refused because only Kirk Cuddy (glad Dominic West survived this mess to star in “The Wire”) and A.C. writes the songs (A.C. by the way, is played by Jason Bonham, son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham).

Brown: A couple things about this scene. First, Chris is getting jaded by fame and getting mobbed by fans. So when you’re feeling that way, you shouldn’t drive the Batmobile to your guitarist’s house! It’s basically a convertible.

Second, I laughed so hard when Chris hands out tapes and notes for the band, only to get soundly rejected. He’s Ringo. Maybe Chris will get to sing a song about an octopus in the next album.

Froemming: Yeah, he is crushed when he is rejected for trying to be original. His biggest fear. I shouldn’t have laughed, but I did.

Brown: Then the one line that blew me away in this movie when Kirk rejects Chris’ creative input, Chris says “I’m not just a singer for hire.” YES YOU WERE! You got hired because you sound like Bobby Beers. Did you have delusions about your role in this group, Chris?”

With Chris now disenfranchised, he takes the stage one final time with Steel Dragon and finds a fan, just like him, singing along with the band, just like he did earlier in the movie. Eventually, he pulls this fan out of the crowd and lets him take over the show and walks away for good. I don’t care if this is supposed to be some poetic moment for Chris, he’s an unprofessional jerk. People paid to see you in Steel Dragon, not the copy of a copy (I’ll let the readers make “Inception” jokes here).

Froemming: Yeah, just pulls a random guy from the crowd and has him finish the show for him. That is just really bad. So he decides to move to Seattle and pretend to be a different guy, a Kurt Cobain kind of guy. Chris has not an original bone in his body.

Brown: A quick tangent, if I may. The song the fan jumps out and sings is “Stand Up and Shout,” which is a song that as a sports writer I hear many, many times a year. It was the same song that former Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan came out of the bullpen to. And every time I went to the Metrodome and watched the Twins try to finish off a victory, that feeling of euphoria was ruined when I had to hear “Stand Up and Shout” and remember this movie was a real thing. “Stand Up and Shout” is the worst.

Froemming: Not going to lie, but since I first saw this movie, I lost a lot of respect for Zakk Wylde, because he is the kind of person who should know better than to be in this turd of movie.

Brown: After Chris and Emily have their tear-filled reunion as Chris is dressed in his best Kurt Cobain in “Nirvana: Unplugged” attire, we are treated to the best part of this movie.

ROCK STAR, Mark Wahlberg, 2001, ©Warner Bros.
ROCK STAR, Mark Wahlberg, 2001, ©Warner Bros.

During the closing credits (after they make their last “Bobby Beers is gay” joke), they show some outtakes. And during one of these, they troll Mark Wahlberg by playing “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch (Wahlberg’s old music group when he had his rap phase). And man, if looks could kill, Mark Wahlberg looked like he’d set that stage on fire like “Carrie.”

If you’re going to suffer through 90-plus minutes of this movie, that outtake is a reward for your suffering.

Froemming: I missed that because once the credits started to roll, I pretty much turned the thing off.

That ending, man that was even more baffling. Was this a love story between Chris and Emily? It never felt like that at all until that happened at the end. Again, this movie doesn’t seem to have a direct objective. It is a bunch of people crammed into a 90-minute 80s metal cliche.

Brown: After all of this rock & roll partying, I’m ready to end this one. Let’s get to recommendations.

Would You Recommend?:

Brown: Nope. This movie just tries too hard and there’s just no substance to it. The story itself is interesting, but the filmmakers couldn’t stay away from all the typical rock star debauchery tropes that won’t let you take the movie seriously. The only watchable part is the Marky Mark bit at the end, which you can watch here.

Froemming: No, just no. This is a mess of a movie that has no clear objective or character development (aside from Chris maturing into Eddie Vedder’s wardrobe at the end). I think it could have been a better movie if it was Tim “Ripper” Owens’ story, but we didn’t get that. We got a terrible film instead.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

  • That’s a lot of wordage for a movie you despise. It’s bad alright, but it seems off-kilter to say “this whole premise is beyond words in its weirdness” in regards to Chris’s obsession with the details of Steel Dragon and the fight with the rival tribute band. You didn’t get that was satire? It’s one of only two good scenes in the movie. The other was when Wahlberg sings “Colorful” (actually by the Verve Pipe) at the end.

    • What can we say, we like to write long about the movies we review here — both great and terrible. But thanks for reading!