"Your job is to live the fantasy other people only dream about," an aging rocker tells a young rocker in Rock Star, Stephen Herek's rags-to-riches-to-rags tale about life in the fastest lane of them all. The fact that the aging rocker, while sharing this pearl of wisdom, is hooked up to a blood-transfusion machine only brings home the point that rock stardom is not only a full-time job but a pledge to live fast, die young and leave a needle-strewn corpse. Chris, a rock-star wannabe whom Mark Wahlberg endows with the same sweet innocence he brought to Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights, is loosely based on Tim Owens, the real-life Akron, Ohio, purchasing agent who, by doing note-perfect impersonations of the lead singer for Judas Priest, wound up the lead singer for Judas Priest. The difference is that Akron has become Pittsburgh and Chris has become a copy-machine repairman, which allows the filmmakers to make some heavy-handed points about originality and authenticity.
If only the movie itself had taken those points to heart. It's never less than enjoyable, and the musical numbers, which are like acid flashbacks to mid-'80s arena rock ' the hair, the makeup, the speakers cranked up so loud that the sound was said to cause involuntary bowel movements ' bring a smile, if not quite a snarl, to one's face. Not since This Is Spinal Tap has heavy metal looked so silly; you'd never guess that Judas Priest once inspired a pair of impressionable youths to shoot themselves in the head with a shotgun. Alas, we always know exactly where Chris is going ' up, then down. Has anyone ever made a movie about fame that wasn't a cautionary tale? Like so many movies, including last year's Almost Famous, Rock Star has us slobbering over the lives of the rich and bitchin', then insists that those lives are in fact quite shallow and boring. This not only makes for lousy sociology, it makes for lousy drama. In the battle for Chris' soul, the Holy Trinity of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll never has a chance.
Well, maybe for a moment or two early on, which is when Rock Star is at its best. Herek gives the movie a headlong rush, and he's gotten all the details right: the bedroom/shrine, the push-start car, the hair pulled back into a ponytail during the day job, the musical hypersensitivity. I love it when Chris, trying to get his cover ' excuse me, tribute ' band to replicate every single sound wave of a song by his idols, says to his lead guitarist, "Rob, you're not nailing the squeal," then, after Rob makes an adjustment, adds, "That's a ping, man, not a squeal." Like Martin Scorsese's King of Comedy, Rock Star takes us inside the mind of a fanatic. But where King of Comedy revealed a pathological maelstrom of jealousy and resentment, Rock Star reveals a mud puddle of love and devotion. Wahlberg's Chris is so oblivious to the "sex" and "drugs" parts of "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" that he's shocked, SHOCKED, when he wakes up one morning in a hotel room full of sleeping naked bodies.
Jennifer Aniston is miscast as Chris' girlfriend/manager, Emily. She's just so...Malibu, and it works against the movie's Wayne-and-Garth vibe. Out of the rest of the cast, Timothy Spall stands out as Mats, the road manager who, when Chris tries to hit him up for a backstage pass, says, "Not without a blow job and a sex change." Still, it's Wahlberg's movie to carry or drop, and he does a pretty good job of keeping it off the ground. He doesn't seem to be discovering new parts of himself, as he did in Boogie Nights, and he's an awfully shy-seeming actor to be playing a rock star, despite his illustrious rap career (which the movie pokes fun at). But he knows what it's like to go from being a nobody to being a somebody, only to have to reinvent yourself all over again.