Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) dir. Jake Kasdan
Starring: John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Tim Meadows, Kristin Wiig, Chris Parnell
“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” is a mystery to me. The red hot Judd Apatow and some of best comedic talents around have produced a lame duck spoof comedy which just barely rises above “Epic Movie” or “Superhero Movie”.
I might understand if Mr. Apatow perhaps attached his name as Executive Producer, say, as a favour to his friend Jake Kasdan who directed the film, but as co-writer it’s clear he spent a good deal of time thinking about this film. For a man who has the key to the Hollywood bank right now, why Apatow would want this film is a complete mystery.
The story mirrors the real life musical biopic structure of “Walk the Line” (Johnny Cash) and “Ray” (Ray Charles). Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) is a farm kid who escapes his painful childhood past and annoying father to become a famous folk singer. Cox hits the same career milestones as Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, including leaving his wholesome wife (Kristin Wiig) for a more seductive singer (Jenna Fischer). There’s also the drug abuse and the spoof of the rise and fall of the artist over time.
“Walk Hard” feels like it was born on a bar napkin after a night of heavy drinking during the “Talladega Nights” set. At best it’s a series of comedy sketches, most of which would have been relegated to the final half hour of SNL. What’s shocking is the lack of situational insight which we saw recently in “Knocked Up” or “The 40-Year Old Virgin”. Of course, Apatow also produces extreme ridiculous comedies such as “Talladega Nights” and “Anchorman”, but I doubt even Will Ferrell could have saved this film.
Kasdan (co-writer and director) and Apatow find the most obvious situations to poke fun of and hit each comedic gag on the head with the bluntest force. For example, in “Walk the Line” Cash’s painful memories of his brother’s farm accident is translated comically into Dewey’s periodic dreams of his own brother’s sliced torso.
There are a few moments, which, stand-alone, induced a few giggles. The underused Tim Meadows provides humour out of mere repetition of a single gag involving Cox’s introduction to drugs. Remember the scene in “Ray” when Ray Charles walks in on his band mates shooting heroin? This scene is repeated multiple times with each punch line getting more and more extreme and ridiculous. But it’s Tim Meadows’ inspired deadpan that sells this amateurish sketch joke. Unfortunately few of these gags hit the mark, most are dumbed down lowest common denominator spoof comedy jokes which fall flat.
But some of the best comedies of all time have come from spoofing other films – see Andrew D. Wells’ fine article on The Best Spoof Films at 'A Penny in the Well’. So what went wrong with “Walk Hard”? At the moment the spoof comedy genre has simply become oversaturated. As mentioned the annual Friedberg/Seltzer films (“Date Movie”, "Epic Movie”, “Meet the Spartans”) has made it difficult to be fresh with the genre. Not even David Zucker (“Superhero Movie), who once perfected these films, can make a good one anymore.
At this point in his career Judd Apatow can make mistakes, and I appreciate his enormous output of films at the moment but “Walk Hard” is one spitball too many.
"Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" is now available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment