Memo to Rainn Wilson: a shot of a paunchy middle-aged man in his jockey shorts is not automatically funny.
Okay, it kind of is. But the obligatory Will Ferrell ™ tighty-whitey shot of Wilson, so inimitably Schrutey as Dwight Schrute on NBC’s The Office, is not enough to sustain a 100-minute comedy.
The Rocker could have been — should have been — as crowd-pleasing as an encore of Pour Some Sugar On Me. That it turns out to be an almost entirely laugh-free comedy must be blamed on the director, Peter Cattaneo, who received an Oscar nomination for helming The Full Monty but now works like a man who has not even seen that film. As for Wilson, his debut as a leading man is going to turn out to be one doodle that can’t be undid.
Wilson plays Robert “Fish” Fishman, a heavy metal drummer (a subject, by the way, about which Wilco has already said all that needs to be said, in their song Heavy Metal Drummer) whose band, Vesuvius, is just about to make it big in the 1980s when the group (whose members include Will Arnett of Arrested Development and Fred Armisen, who plays Barack Obama on Saturday Night Live) fires him to create a job for the nephew of their record company’s chief.
The scene of Vesuvius rocking it ’80s style is amusing, but it’s about all the movie has to give. Fast forward 20 years, when Fish is working in a highly Schrutey job in a phone bank. Vesuvius turned out to be a rock band as indestructible as Aerosmith, and they’re about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. An office mate brags that he’s just scored the new Vesuvius CD, and he doesn’t even know about Fish’s stint with the band. (Which seems unlikely. If you were once the drummer for Van Halen, how many beers would it take to get this information out of you?)