An affectionate romantic drama made by and for people in love with music,
Stephen Herek's "Rock Star" is a swiftly written, nicely acted tribute to
'80s heavy metal music. Playing out like an entertaining, less gritty, cross
between 2000's beautiful "Almost Famous" and 1997's harrowing "Boogie
Nights," the film opens with a bang and never loses steam. Aided by a
rocking, nostalgia-packed soundtrack that includes original music from the
fictional band Steel Dragon, as well as such '80s heavy metal icons as Judas
Priest, Motley Crew, Bon Jovi, and Kiss, "Rock Star" accurately portrays a
specific time that seldom is visited in the movies.
By day, Chris Coles (Mark Wahlberg) works as an office copier specialist, and
by night he headlines a tribute band for his favorite heavy metal group,
Steel Dragon. The year is 1985, and while Chris wants nothing more than to
remain singing covers of Steel Dragon songs, the other band members long to
break out into original songwriting. Following a nasty group breakup that
leaves him the odd man out, Chris is in disbelief when Steel Dragon
personally calls him up and offers him the chance to take over as lead singer
for the now-departed Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng). With longtime girlfriend
and manager Emily (Jennifer Aniston) in tow, Chris' life suddenly takes off
on a whirlwind of endless concert dates, sex, and drugs, all of which he's
not sure he's prepared to handle.
At the center of "Rock Star" is the tender relationship between Chris, who
comes to be known as Izzy once he hits it big, and the patient Emily. Mark
Wahlberg (2001's "Planet of the Apes") and Jennifer Aniston (1999's "Office
Space") light up the screen together with a loving exuberance one rarely sees
in movie romances. While the general outline of their rocky road together is
predictable, the manner in which it is handled is far from generic. When
Emily is turned away from riding with Chris and the band in their tour bus,
instead relegated to the limo holding the other members' wives and
girlfriends, she remains understanding. And when one alcohol-and-drug-laced
night turns into an orgy free-for-all in which both parties participate, the
expected uneasiness between them never arises, because they realize they were
equally at fault and it didn't emotionally mean anything for either of them.
Credit Wahlberg and Aniston for so easily allowing the viewer to believe
their love for one another, and screenwriter John Stockwell for handing the
central relationship an unexpected maturity.
As Steel Dragon's wisened manager, Timothy Spall (1996's "Secrets and Lies")
gives the type of flawlessly tuned supporting performance that rightfully
wins raves. Meanwhile, Timothy Olyphant (1999's "Go") is memorable and
refreshingly multidimensional as Chris' friend from home who he runs into
problems with, while Dominic West (2000's "28 Days") is a scene-stealer as
Steel Dragon's headstrong guitarist.
"Rock Star" may not have quite the amount of resonance the more ambitious
"Almost Famous" had, but it is a very good film--surprisingly moving when it
wants to be, and occasionally even extremely funny. One scene, in which Steel
Dragon is shooting a brooding magazine cover that Chris, no matter how hard
he tries, can't stop smiling about, captures the excitement and innocence of
his dedicated character, still unaltered from the tough times ahead of him.
As a motion picture about music, sacrifice, dreams, and two people who
hopelessly love each other even when they know they can't be together any
longer, "Rock Star" is a successful, intelligent venture from filmmaker
Stephen Herek, a natural step up from the man who once burdened the world
with 1998's "Holy Man" and 1996's live-action "101 Dalmatians."
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman