Mark Wahlberg's rock 'n' roll fantasy turns into a nightmare when he goes from the po-faced singer of a British heavy metal tribute band to the real band's new (and easily manipulated) frontman.
Rock Star's origins lie in the rise to fame of Tim ''Ripper'' Owens, who supplanted Judas Priest singer Rob Halford after toiling in a tribute band to the British metal mavens. Not that Owens is too happy with Rock Star. Director Stephen Herek and writer John Stockwell present Wahlberg's Chris Cole as a hired hand willing to live out someone else's dream. It's also a cliched cautionary tale about fame and fortune. In his cover band, Cole lives to bang out perfect renditions of the loud and proud heavy metal fashioned by the Def Leppard-ish Steel Dragon. Instant fame arrives when Steel Dragon hires Cole to replace their departed singer. Cue the barrage of women, illicit drugs and wrecked hotel rooms, followed by the exit of Cole's long-suffering girlfriend Emily (Jennifer Aniston). He must now decide between life in the fast lane or Emily and his growing desire to be taken seriously.
How much of a stretch is it for the former rapper known as Marky Mark to portray a wide-eyed dreamer who succumbs to sex, drugs and heavy metal? He did it once as Boogie Nights' porn star and aspiring rocker. He has the abs, the flowing mane of hair, the well-packaged leather pants, the mascara and eyeliner, the high shriek and the stage presence to make you believe that he can rock day and night with Motley Crue. He also displays an innocence that's ripe for corruption. Aniston's job is to ensure that Walhberg remains unaffected by fame. There's a steeliness and determination in Aniston that she's never displayed before. Yet her beauty undermines her. She's the kind of girl Wahlberg could only get when famous, not while rocking in obscurity. Of the band, only road manager Timothy Spall displays any wit or personality. He's a hoot as a grizzled veteran with plenty of sage advice to dispense.
Herek must have seen every episode of VH1's Behind the Music. Like the subjects of that series, Rock Star rocks hard, parties harder, and then crashes louder than any Judas Priest anthem. He even bookends Rock Star with Walhberg reflecting on his wild ways. There are the requisite overproduced rock concerts, TV interviews, orgies, drug binges and recording studio screaming fits. Just what you would expect from Reagan-era rockers. Herek handles all this with panache--Rock Star is as fast, glossy and entertaining as any MTV video--but it burns out suddenly and unsatisfactorily. It just isn't clear whether Herek and Stockwell are out to honor, condemn or satirize rock's excesses. Also, just like last year's Almost Famous, Rock Star's fictional band barely seems part of the proceedings. You never get a true sense of the band's mechanics, or of what made them metal gods to begin with.
This is not Spinal Tap, but it is a fun though far from decadent or persuasive rock epic about finding your own voice in life.