“Smiling is for the weak,” one character tells Robert “Fish” Fishman (Rainn Wilson), a forty-year old drummer getting a second chance at the brass ring of rock godhood.

If she is right, than I remained strong through my viewing of The Rocker, barely even smiling at the tepid comedy that feels more middle-of-the-road adult contemporary than bawdy and rebellious rock and roll.

Twenty years have gone by since Fish was kicked out of the rock band he started on the eve their making it big. While they have gone on to worldwide fame, he has remained in his hometown of Cleveland, drifting from job to job. He finds himself back behind a kit when his nephew’s band needs a drummer for an upcoming gig, playing the prom. What follows are some fairly predictable plotlines about the band’s sudden rise to fame and Fish’s over-exuberance at finally achieving the fame he had always wanted.

The main problem lies with the film’s inconsistent take on Wilson’s character. Large portions of the film have Fish coming off as such a clueless and cartoony buffoon, one has to wonder how he hasn’t wound up dead already through some dimwitted misadventure. Wilson plays things very broadly, resulting in a performance that doesn’t sit well next to the more grounded work of the rest of the cast. However, there are times when the script calls for Fish to deliver some startling perceptive words of wisdom to his younger bandmates. These scenes standout, and not in a good way, as one can’t believe that such salient advice is coming from someone the movie has gone to great lengths to present as an oblivious goofball.

The film’s real standouts are Fish’s bandmates. Relegated to players supporting Fish’s antics, with each being given a few moments to shine. Fish’s hefty nephew Matt (Josh Gad), delivers some of the best and understated comic moments of the film. It is unfortunate his subplot concerning his becoming the object of a fan’s affection never really resolves itself. Emma Stone’s role as the band’s bassist is equally underwritten, but at least her character gets a bit more closure to her story of unrequited feelings for lead singer Teddy Geiger. Geiger’s character’s own transformation from sensitive if moody singer-songwriter to self-important jerk and back is handled abruptly and clumsily, feeling as if it is motivate by nothing more than the need to add one more complication to the story going into the third act.

Wilson’s character seems to spend a goodly portion of the film drenched in sweat, presumably to reinforce what a wild and crazy drummer he is. It is difficult, though, to keep from interpreting his voluminous perspiration as nothing more than flop sweat.

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About Rich Drees 7195 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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