With "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," character actor John C. Reilly realizes a lifelong dream: to become Will Ferrell.
Reilly, in a breakout performance, makes this often hilarious "Walk the Line" spoof an exclamation point on the Year of Apatow. Judd Apatow, the new cutting edge of comedy ("Knocked Up," "The 40 Year Old Virgin") co-wrote and produced this. His rep company of actor-pals, The Ap Pack, show up to make sure there's plenty of juice to this mockery of the music and life of Johnny Cash.
Dewey Cox began his life with tragedy, losing his musically gifted but comically careless older brother to a machete accident. Pa (Raymond Barry impersonating Robert Patrick of "Walk the Line") has the first of the movie's many running gags.
"The wrong kid died."
By the time Dewey is 14 (the 40ish Reilly takes over playing Dewey at this age, hilarious) his gifts are obvious.
We go with him into the recording studio where a faux Sam Phillips (John Michael Higgins) gives him 15 seconds to prove himself in front of the mike.
We visit him at home with his 12-year-old bride (Kristen Wiig) who has his babies and yells, every chance she gets, "Give up that dream!"
Dewey has his epiphanies. He'll be in the middle of an argument, a confession. He'll repeat a line and then look heavenward with a "That there's a song" beatific expression on his face.
It's a movie of giggles and belly laughs, none bigger than Dewey's trip to India with the Beatles. John (Paul Rudd, wickedly spot-on), Paul (Jack Black, a cheap-shot bit of casting), George (Justin Long) and Ringo (Jason Schwartzman) bitterly bicker as Dewey gets mellow, drifting along on every current the culture tosses his way.
He tries cocaine and it turns him into a punk rocker. He does TV and goes disco. The wit of this script is in its familiarity. This stuff didn't just happen to Johnny Cash. Every star of that era went through something like this career arc.
Apatow marries his "Walk the Line" spoof to his "Talladega Nights" screenplay, giving Reilly a deranged run-the-streets-in-his-underwear scene straight out of that movie. There's full-frontal nudity, colorful cursing and little blasts of political incorrectness. Dewey's cover of "You've Got to Love Your Negro Man" early in his career, his "Take My Hand, Little Man" (part of his protest-folk "midget rights" phase) are sure to get a cheap laugh.
And there's nothing like a Jewish screenwriter to make a good "Jews run the music business" gag pay off. Three Hasidic wise men (look for Harold Ramis under the gray wig and beard) give the Goy boy his first record deal.
Dewey's courtship of backup singer Darlene (Jenna Fischer, doe-eyed and double entendre-ready) is an awkward and beautifully performed hoot. Reilly, a legitimate crooner, matches his mentor Ferrell moment for clueless moment. He plays the heck out of this guy and makes the concert sequences ring true.
Even Tim Meadows, far from the funniest guy ever to grace "Saturday Night Live," scores. He's the drummer who introduces Dewey to all manner of drugs and depravity. In a running gag, Dewey opens the door to a dressing room. His drummer is there lighting up/snorting/popping, etc. And he lectures the singer, "Dewey, you don't want no part of this!" And he gives an anti-drug lecture that sums up all the reasons why Dewey would want to snort, smoke, pop, drop acid, etc.
"It was made by scientists!"
The whole story is framed in a backstage flashback from Dewey's big tribute moment, because "Dewey Cox needs to think about his entire life before he plays." Repeated puns on the man's last name wear out, and it's a little thin on ideas, being a spoof so narrowly pointed at "Walk the Line."
But director Jake Kasdan ("The TV Set") sees to it that "Walk Hard" never stops sprinting from its snickering start to that big finish. This "Walk" parody always lands on its feet.