by ED SYMKUS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & rock band is about to hit its stride. A record label is ready to sign them, and they are more than ready to do the signing. The band members are practically jumping up and down, shouting, "We're gonna be huge! We're gonna be rich."
But there's just one problem. Before that last step is taken, before the pens come out, they must replace the drummer. They do; he doesn't take it well; they become huge and rich.
No, this isn't the Pete Best story. That beginning part happens in 1986; the band is called Vesuvius and they play metal; and the drummer is named Fish.
Twenty years later, Vesuvius is still doing quite well, thank you, and Fish (Rainn Wilson), who has turned out to be one of life's losers, is still angry.
But this is one of those second-chance, dreams-come-true movies. Sort of.
Fish, an obnoxious jerk who does much better by not trying to get along with anyone, is forced to move in with his sister and her family. But -- and here's that second-chance business -- his hopelessly nerdy high school nephew Matt (Josh Gad) is in a fledgling band called A.D.D. which just landed a gig at school. But their drummer was suspended and Matt suggests to his bandmates that he could "ask my uncle" to sit in.
Plot-wise, there you have it. Band does great, angry drummer has his comeback, becomes a superstar, gets even with the guys who ruined his life.
At least that's how the clich & eacute;d version of this story would go. Unfortunately, The Rocker doesn't go anywhere different.
Wilson, who plays it so dryly funny as Dwight on The Office, seems to have been given free rein (free Rainn?) to overact to excess here, putting every painful/ecstatic expression on his face that he can muster each time he climbs behind the drum kit. The joke is that he can only rock out, and has no idea how to play a ballad, even though A.D.D. has some ballads in their shows. The only reason he's allowed to stay in the band is because hope drives him to find them real gigs.
And then the clich & eacute;s do start flying. An obnoxious record company executive (Jason Sudeikus) likes what he hears, and offers them some work.
We do get to know some of the characters: Matt, the keyboard player with no self-esteem; Curtis (up-and-coming pop-rocker Teddy Geiger), the chick-magnet guitarist and singer; and Amelia (Emma Stone), the beautiful but lonely bass player.
Unfortunately, we get to know Fish -- or "Uncle Rob" -- the best. But beyond stretching viewers' limits by going and staying over the top, the only interesting thing about Wilson's performance is that, as if in some Judd Apatow production, he does some scenes wearing only his little white undies, and later graduates to rehearsing in the buff which, natch, the record producer thinks is so great, he soon advertises with band as "A.D.D., featuring the Naked Drummer."
Finally, a funny idea. And then, wouldn't you know it, it's just dropped from the script. It's never allowed to take off. And that's what's really wrong with the film. There are plenty of good ideas, but they're not taken advantage of. When the band finally hits the road, they're given the always funny Howard Hesseman to drive the tour bus, but he's given nothing to do as an actor. Matt's clueless dad is played by the ever-hilarious Jeff Garlin, but he suffers the same fate as Hesseman, mostly relegated to the background, with only a few good lines to deliver. There's some promise for Christina Applegate as Curtis' former-rocker single mom, and she's quite good in the part, but hints at what she used to be are limited to her sneaking around playing Guitar Hero when she thinks no one's watching.
There are some funny throwaway gags, a couple of pretty good pop songs, a few cameos by the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, and even a bit of drama with the despicable record company guy and his connection with Vesuvius.
But none of it ever gets above being middling. The Rocker is a film that features some good payoffs near the end, but it's also packed with too many lost opportunities.
Directed by Peter Cattaneo
Starring Rainn Wilson, Josh Gad, Christina Applegate, Teddy Geiger, Emma Stone