by Lucy Leitner
Rock Star doesn’t rock. Instead of using the Ripper Owens source material to recount the incredible story of a young man and a serendipitous stroke of luck that lets him live his dream, the film is a poorly written, cliché-ridden indictment of the hard rock lifestyle. With some great original ‘80s hard rock tunes provided by Zakk Wylde, Jason Bonham, Jeff Pilson and the lead singer of Steelheart (and even a cameo by Steel Panther frontman Michael Starr), the movie has the metal equivalent of street cred. Unfortunately, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure director Stephen Herek uses it to create a formulaic film about forging an identity in the dangerous sleaze rock circus.
Chris Cole (Mark Wahlberg) is the lead singer of Blood Pollution, a Pittsburgh-based tribute to metal gods Steel Dragon. But recently his whole life has become a cover song and his unwavering devotion to maintaining the integrity of Dragon tunes has left him open for the criticism that he’s living someone else’s life. The film wastes as much time reiterating the same point in the exposition as I am about to in this review.
“The sickest thing about you is that you don’t have any fantasies of your own. You fantasize about being someone else, wearing someone else’s clothes, singing someone else’s songs,” his straight-laced police officer brother asserts. “You don’t know where [Steel Dragon lead singer] Bobby Beers ends and where you begin,” says Blood Pollution guitarist Rob (Timothy Olyphant). “Wouldn’t you rather fail as yourself?” It’s drilled into his and the audience’s heads that Chris needs to discover his own identity rather than trying his hardest to be Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng).
But as luck would have it, he is given the opportunity to do the latter when some groupie friends from the ‘Burgh slip a Blood Pollution video to Dragon guitarist Kirk Cuddy (Dominic West). Immediately after flying to California with his longtime girlfriend Emily (Jennifer Aniston), the band christens him Izzy and he becomes more Bobby Beers than the real Bobby Beers ever was. For, you see, Steel Dragon is a fraud. The closeted Beers wears a wig, and Cuddy runs the band like a business, churning out formulaic rock and calculating fan reaction in the terms of financial gain.
The Pittsburgh kid, who smiles way too much for metal, quickly finds that he doesn’t fit in with the debauched rock star lifestyle and Emily doesn’t belong with the jilted, jaded rock star wives who are content to drink their sorrows away while hanging on to their husbands’ dreams. As it turns out, neither can handle living Izzy’s life. It’s the same sad irony and forced poetic justice that permeates every facet of the film.
John Stockwell’s script relies too heavily on the gimmick of scene replication. The scene of Beers’s ousting from Steel Dragon is nearly an exact reprisal of the scene of Chris’s firing from Blood Pollution that occurred mere moments earlier. The exposition sequence in which Chris admonishes the band for adhering too strictly to formula is mirrored in the later incident when Cuddy tells Chris the same thing. So, by repeating his M.O., Stockwell’s script becomes just as formulaic as the music that it criticizes. Quotes are also regurgitated by various characters, with “I gotta take a piss” as the film’s own inside joke. Other lines are forcefully set up: Stockwell has a brilliant l’espirit d’escalier rebuttal on the tip of his tongue, but no one to say it to, so he creates contrived situations that allow the response to fit in context, but the conversation just feels awkward and forced. In an elevator on the way to Steel Dragon’s hotel room, a platinum blond groupie explains her place of work to Emily by saying, “It’s not totally nude there. We wear G-strings, so the guys respect us way more.” To which Emily replies, “Yeah, that is so true. Nothing says respect like cramming a strip of Lycra up your ass.” The conversation is irrelevant and merely a means to showcase a sarcastic line of which Stockwell was no doubt quite proud.
And the rest of the film is just a blurred montage of the rock n’ roll lifestyle that, in its brief screen time, is shown to be fraudulent, depraved, selfish, hazardous to your health and set to a soundtrack of Motley Crue’s “Wild Side.” I share the opinion that Pittsburgh’s a fantastic city. It has a great hockey team, one of the nation’s best drinking districts, this triumphant blogger, and people who tend to be more authentic—albeit less dentally conscious—than the air-brushed California folk. But moving out to L.A. to become a rock star doesn’t seem all that bad either.