Mark Wahlberg plays a nice young man who gets caught up in a glamorous and sexually charged world, changes his name, realizes he has natural gifts for his new line of work, fornicates with strangers, then discovers life in the fast lane is not all it’s cracked up to be.
That’s a plot summary for both the superior “Boogie Nights” and the average “Rock Star.”
This time, Wahlberg plays Chris, a Pittsburgh kid circa 1985 who worships and adores Steel Dragon (a heavy metal band that exists just in this movie). He’s frontman for Blood Pollution, a Steel Dragon “tribute” band, and he wants nothing more than to BE the lead singer. His knowledge of the band, its songs and its habits borders on the obsessive.
His fantasy comes true when the real lead singer splits and he is tapped to replace him, thanks to the band having found videotapes of a Blood Pollution concert. Soon Chris has changed his name to Izzy, adopted an English accent, and is traveling the world with Steel Dragon, accompanied by his girlfriend/manager Emily (Jennifer Aniston).
It’s dizzying, of course, to discover the amazing things that await him — the women, the parties, the fame, the fortune, etc., etc., etc. Director Stephen Herek creates a vivid, strobe-lighted sequence at a party that accurately demonstrates how other-worldly it all is, but the details elsewhere seem sketchy and detached. Where the similarly themed “Almost Famous” was obviously made by people who love the world of rock ‘n’ roll, “Rock Star” appears manufactured by impartial observers.
Until Chris joins the band, the film moves along nicely, with some very funny moments involving his extremely hip parents and ridiculously uptight policeman brother. It is pleasant and funny and entertaining.
Then it stops. The trouble with John Stockwell’s screenplay is that, once Chris becomes a rock star, the movie has no place to go. Of course Emily will become jealous of all the trashy women who throw themselves at lead singers, of course her and Chris’ relationship will be summed up by a scene in which even SHE can’t get into an exclusive party, of course Chris will come to see he’s not as important to the band as they are to him. It’s all mapped out perfectly, and the movie’s second half doesn’t overlook a single cliche.
For us to care about a movie character, we have to see him going through some kind of change. But here, the journey is predetermined, and if Wahlberg’s character changes, it’s behind our backs. As far as we know, the only thing he wants in life is to be a rock star. If he decides that’s not for him after all, what will he be “going back” to? What are the stakes? What are the possible outcomes of his life? We don’t know any of this. It’s either rock star or absolutely nothing, as far as we’re concerned.
The life of a rock star is fun, and this movie is fun, too … up to a point. In the end, it’s the same three chords we’ve always heard.
B- (; )