Rainn Wilson is a fine comedic actor. Follow him on twitter, he is entertaining. But The Rocker isn’t his best work, and might have been more suited to someone else. It’s the tale of a drummer in a hair metal band in the ’80s, who gets left behind when his bandmates are offered a big contract, but only if the producer’s nephew can take the drummer’s place. 2 seconds later he’s out on his ass, and 20 years later Robert “Fish” Fishman is a nobody working in an office job, unable to forget what might have been.
He ends up living with his brother (Jeff Garlin, I Just Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) whose teenage son is in a band. They want to play for the school dance, so Uncle Fish barges his way into their band to regain a scintilla of his former glory. The band itself is pretty forgettable except for Amelia (Emma Stone, Jules from Superbad) who doesn’t have a lot to work with, but makes something of it. A lot of the blame goes to the lazy screenplay, which has them catapulted to stardom after a disastrous performance when they decide to practice via webcam, and dumb old Fish performs naked, since he don’t get this here interweb thing! We’re subjected to about 5 minutes of Rainn Wilson’s pasty white ass, which isn’t anywhere near as funny as the film hopes it will be. Thankfully we don’t have to see his Schrute-berries.
This sets the stage for the inevitable showdown, as “the band with naked youtube guy” gets their 15 minutes of fame, and of course get a chance to open for Fish’s old band at a big venue. At first he refuses to face his past, but eventually we get to the best part of the film- seeing Fish face off with his old bandmates, who now pretend to be British. Will Arnett plays the lead singer, and he’s funny as usual; he gives Rainn Wilson someone to riff off of, which helps. The story is on autopilot here and ends as expected, with a few highlights. These include a bit part by Howard Hesseman (WKRP in Cincinnati, Head of the Class) as Gator the tour bus driver; Jason Sudeikis from SNL as a sleazy manager, and Jane Lynch from Role Models (full review) and Best in Show as the ornery sister-in-law.
Fans of Rainn Wilson from The Office will be disappointed at this attempt at being a comic lead. The movie feels like an extended SNL skit, and Fish is the butt of most jokes, instead of being funny on his own. There’s plenty of clumsy slapstick out of nowhere, such as stoned Fish falling off rooftops, chasing vans like the T-1000, and other jokes that fall flat. There’s a movie waiting for Wilson to take comic lead in, but this isn’t it. But we’ll give him another chance.