[box cover]

Rock Star

The hair. The mascara. The leather. The posing and the preening. An unmistakable pop-music genre that has gone the way of so many others, heavy metal dominated the album charts for much of the 1980s before it was ushered to an early grave in the '90s by grunge, rap, and boy bands. And if you ask some folks, it's best left there. A shallow, testosterone-fueled object of ridicule even before its demise (um, there was that little movie called This Is Spinal Tap), Stephen Herek's Rock Star (2001) nonetheless takes a trip down memory lane with a semi-true story about a nobody headbanger who becomes an overnight celebrity. Mark Wahlberg stars as Chris Cole, an office worker by day who lives out his fantasies by night in the band Blood Pollution, itself a tribute band to the mega-popular Steel Dragon — which means Chris is only interested in covering ("re-imagining"?) Steel Dragon tunes and doing the best he can to sound like Bobby Beers, Dragon's flamboyant lead singer. But after the members of Blood Pollution decide to boot Chris so they can work on original material, he is without an act, supported only by his girlfriend/manager Emily (Jennifer Aniston). However, the members of Steel Dragon plan to show Bobby Beers the door, and a chance videotape of Chris singing Dragon songs earns him an audition — and a job performing with the major metal act in massive arenas. Rock Star has deficiencies, but foremost among them is the shopworn plot. Drawn from the story of Tim "Ripper" Owens — a Judas Priest fan who became a band member after Rob Halford's departure — the script follows an entirely predictable arc, as Chris is allowed to live out his greatest fantasies, but eventually learns that the members of Steel Dragon have little respect for him. And, of course, his newfound fame puts his relationship with girlfriend Emily on the skids, which means Chris will have to make a choice before it's all over — care to guess what that will be? Rock Star's greatest appeal comes from its performances: Wahlberg is a reliable lead, Aniston smart and attractive, and the Steel Dragon crew is a great collection of actors, including Dominic West (28 Days) as guitarist Kirk Cuddy, Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) as Bobby Beers, and a sharp turn from Timothy Spall as Mats, the road manager (also watch for Jason Bonham as Steel Dragon's drummer, Brian Vander Ark of The Verve Pipe as Blood Pollution's bassist, and a funny bit from Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind as a wannabe metalhead). But it's far too much talent wasted on a shoestring premise, and if you think Spinal Tap is a hoot, you may have trouble taking this film's dramatic moments seriously. Even worse, if you think the old 'banger music looks and sounds silly, you will have to endure a lot of it — it's well-staged and professionally played, but they call it butt rock for a reason. By the time the film's denouement arrives and Chris winds up in Seattle, he may look just as clichéd with his Kurt Cobain cardigan and Eddie Vedder hair (it's Seattle — get it?), but the rich, soul-searching grunge ballad he belts out in a coffeeshop sounds so nice after all the ass music that you wish you could hear more (the tune is "Colorful" by Brian Vander Ark). Warner's Rock Star DVD features a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with booming audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. The best feature is a commentary with director Herek, who clearly had a lot of fun making the film and shares a few stories. Also on board are a four-minute featurette, the video "Rock Star" by Everclear, filmographies, and trailers. Snap-case.

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