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Dustin Putman

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Rock Star (2001)
3 Stars

Directed by Stephen Herek
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston, Timothy Spall, Dominic West, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Flemyng, Dagmara Dominczyk, Beth Grant, Matthew Glave.
2001 – 105 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for profanity, nudity, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 7, 2001.

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."

©2001 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman