- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

Mark Wahlberg is a curious choice for the lead in "Rock Star," the rags-to-riches saga of a Pittsburgh punk who becomes his favorite band's lead singer.
The erstwhile Marky Mark has spent the past few years burying his rap sheet with quality performances in films such as 1999's "Three Kings" and 1997's "Boogie Nights."
Now, he is back on stage, gyrating his chiseled abdominals before hundreds of screaming fans.
Like much of the young actor's film choices, his performance in "Rock Star" pays off. Mr. Wahlberg imbues Chris "Izzy" Coles with the starry-eyed soul of a young man whose dream comes blazing to life until new dreams are revealed.
His film, however, doesn't make the transition so easily. "Rock Star" is a dysfunctional melange of hair-metal cliches that starts with its heart on its leather sleeve but collapses under a rushed final act.
It's as if someone told director Stephen Herek (1995's "Mr. Holland's Opus") in the middle of filming that '80s metal music isn't worth such slavish devotion and he shrugged his shoulders and agreed.
"Rock Star" is loosely based on the true tale of how Judas Priest replaced its longtime lead singer, Rob Halford, with tribute band singer Tim "Ripper" Owens. It pays deference to the animalistic fury of metal music but never peers into the hearts, or minds, of its champions. It leaves us with only a trite plot devolution to carry our interests.
Set in the mid-'80s, the film opens with Chris laboring around tiny Pittsburgh bars with his tribute band, which covers Steel Dragon's music. Chris sports glam rock hair and too much eyeliner, and he craves an escape from his day gig fixing copier machines.
He isn't a typical, angst-filled rocker. Nor does he feel the need to rebel against his parents, who attend all of his shows and unwaveringly support his curious predilections. Also on hand is Chris' longtime steady, Emily, played by Jennifer Aniston lurking under a shag of copious '80s locks.
His devotion to Steel Dragon music doesn't sit well with his band mates, who wouldn't mind slipping in some original material between the covers.
That piety alienates his guitarist, but it also inexplicably draws the attention of Steel Dragon itself. The aging band is in the market for a new singer. Bobby Beers, its front man, is suffering a musical and sexual identity crisis and cannot be counted upon.
Enter Izzy, aka Chris, who picks up a floating faux British accent and takes Bobby's place to rescue Dragon's fortunes.
We never find out why Chris' obsession runs so deeply, but the film's opening moments are painted with such loving detail and humor we don't mind the lack of introspection.
The scenes involving Chris' home life work best, thanks to writer John Stockwell's genial wordplay. His brother, played by Matthew Glave, mocks Chris for still living at home and clinging to a lifestyle most teen-agers abandon by 19.
Chris' skirmishes with a rival tribute band are played straight and work as ferocious parodies. The two sides compare notes on fashion tips as if they were experts in haute couture.
Once Chris' rock star aspirations materialize, the film loses its footing. One heady scene follows his melodramatic debut with Steel Dragon, complete with the requisite imbibing and sexual flirtations.
Mr. Herek swirls and twirls his camera, mimicking the disorientation felt by Chris and Emily. The film never takes advantage of the scene's delirious momentum.
"Rock Star" echoes 1984's "This is Spinal Tap," the definitive look at heavy metal histrionics. That film had the smarts to paint its musicians as egotistical, small-minded players buried under their own images.
"Rock Star" contents itself to pop off on easy targets — vapid groupies, fiery guitar chords and the rock lifestyle we've seen on too many "Behind the Music" testimonials.
By the time one band member stuffs an engorged vegetable down his trousers before hitting the stage, we no longer care about him or his band mates.
Surely there also must be a fresh spin to be put on musicians trashing their hotel rooms.
The Dragon members never appear jaded by their lifestyle, nor do we see Chris' metamorphosis from devoted fan to disheartened washout with any clarity.
Mr. Wahlberg is never less than compelling in the title role, from his unerring lip-synched numbers to his devotion to Emily.
Miss Aniston proves once more that she deserves to be on the big screen, particularly if she can enliven underwritten roles like that of Emily with such flair.
"Rock Star" begins as a loving tribute to a maligned subculture but ends up a stale imitation of its source.
It's an irony that may be lost on rock fans delighted to see their music returned to its lofty pedestal. It apparently was lost on the film's creators.

**-1/2
TITLE: "Rock Star"
RATING: R (profanity, sexual situations, partial nudity and drug content)
CREDITS: Directed by Stephen Herek, written by John Stockwell
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes


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