Middle-Aged Comeback: Rainn Wilson Fishes for Attention

Maui Time | July 28, 2008
Middle-Aged Comeback

Rainn Wilson Fishes for Attention

The Rocker (Three Stars)

By Cole Smithey (536 words)

Rainn Wilson plays “Fish,” a washed-up and bitter heavy metal drummer who gets a second chance in life to rock out in this feel good comedy that’s more than the sum of its parts. After being unceremoniously kicked out of his band Vesuvius 20 years ago, Fish gets fired from a brain-deadening desk job and is forced to move in with his sister and her husband. Fish’s luck shifts when his songwriting teenaged nephew Matt (played by Josh Gad) invites him to play drums for his band “A.D.D.” for a graduation party gig. One thing leads to another and Fish takes the band on the road under his newfound YouTube fame as “the naked drummer.” Romance enters Fish’s life when the band’s guitarist’s mom Kim (played by Christina Applegate) is prompted to chaperone the tour. There’s enough innocent charm and dumb optimism here to pad the movie’s lighthearted pokes at humor.

British director Peter Cattaneo made a splash in 1997 with “The Full Monty” that seemed to promise a bight future for the filmmaker to deliver more absurdist comedies rooted in communal reality. But like so many misleading strokes of luck in cinema, “The Full Monty” proved to be a one-off for the director.

Although the subject here is perilously close to that of the middle-aged boy/men of “Step Brothers,” Cattaneo reigns in Wilson’s offbeat character with a sense of desperate loneliness that informs Fish’s brittle defense mechanisms. He’s a loser with energy, and for as much trouble as his long-held grudge causes, it also serves him when he gets the chance to effectively lead a rock band, albeit one fronted by a sentimental 16-year-old singer/songwriter named Curtis (Teddy Geiger). The story gains momentum when Fish turns one of Curtis’ dirt-kicking ballads called “Bitter” on its head by reversing the song’s intent. It gets even better when Fish strikes up a romance with Curtis’ mom, and the oh-so precocious Curtis acts out his contempt on the bandstand.

There’s more than a whiff of “Spinal Tap” in the presentation of Vesuvius as a group of developmentally challenged rockers in love with themselves and their lifestyle of excess. Will Arnett is especially snide as the band’s wigged frontman during the movie’s finale when A.D.D. opens for the band that sold Fish out for their questionable musical success.

Rainn Wilson makes the movie happen. The actor best known for his role on television’s “The Office” percolates with comic intentionality tempered by a snarky dash of cruelty that disguises his undeniable joyfulness. He’d make a perfect straight man to Jack Black’s inflection-fueled comic delivery. The two comedians share a syncopated sense of comic timing that grows on you the more you’re exposed to it. There’s something just a little unpredictable about it. “The Rocker” is a movie that promises a more defined comic presence for Rainn Wilson in the future. But in the world of movies, looks are usually deceiving.

(20th Century Fox) Rated PG-13, 102 mins (B-)


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