The first 30 or so minutes of "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" condense the entire Hollywood biopic genre into a sweet chewable tablet. It's the Flintstones vitamin of spoofs. (However, it is not recommended for actual Flintstones chewers.)
In one of the opening scenes, we see our tall gawky hero, Dewford Cox (a great John C. Reilly), leaning against a wall. He's got a minute before he's set to take the stage. But wait, his drummer tells the stage manager, Dewey has to go over his entire life's story before he plays. And that scene melts back to the farm Dewey grew up on, while the soundtrack pours mellifluous gospel moaning all over the pastoral imagery.
The movie gives us the scarring family tragedy ("I'm cut in half pretty bad," says Dewey's brother), the discovery of his early musical genius (he learns the blues in about two seconds), the ascent to fame, the instantly dysfunctional marriage, the introduction to drugs, the luscious new wife, the collapse (jail, rehab), and the comeback. That the makers of "Walk Hard" - director Jake Kasdan wrote the movie with Judd Apatow - manage do all this in about half the time it takes to watch a "Behind the Music" is part of what makes it such a carbonated treat.
Like the "Scary Movie" series, "Walk Hard" is a comedy that doubles as obscene film criticism. The tired tropes and clichés of Hollywood music biography (about Jim Morrison, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, et al.) get beaned hard with a dodge ball. One of the best gags is that Reilly is already playing Dewey at age14. A year later comes this line to spouse one, whose mantra is "Give up your dreams": "I think I'm doing all right for a 15-year-old with a wife and a baby!"
"Walk Hard" is pure "Weird Al" Yankovic pop prank - impersonation that merges homage and disrespect into confection. This brisk bliss is short-lived, though, as Kasdan and Apatow's ambition gets the best of them. Three or four awesome novelty singles strive to make up an album. But when is the last time you listened to an entire Weird Al record? In essence, the movie becomes one of the fish in the barrel it's shooting. This should be over in 35 minutes but goes on for another hour.
There are gold nuggets strewn about those 60 minutes - like the vulgar, crassly fused hip-hop mash-up that resuscitates old Dewey's career (race is deftly toyed with). The cast is uniformly committed to the movie's nonsense, from the "Saturday Night Live" alums, like Tim Meadows and Chris Parnell (these two need a show of their own), to current "SNL" player Kristen Wiig. Jenna Fischer - Pam from "The Office" - plays Dewey's second wife. On TV, she can seem self-doubtingly sad even when she's smiling. Here Fischer is very funny anyway, both when her feet are in the air and when they're kicking Dewey out of her life. Reilly, meanwhile, is like Will Ferrell with a vastly human third dimension.
Even so, fatigue sets in. Since "Walk Hard" is essentially lacking in drama, the gags move laterally, and they can stand more or less independent of each other. It's not building toward anything. So you're free to drift in and out if you please, to make your own playlist of the movie's greatest hits. Speaking of which, Dewey's songs are smart little rockabilly, pop, and country numbers that Apatow, Kasdan, and others wrote, and that Reilly intones with hearty sincerity. The movie stays with you for about 10 minutes. The music, though, suggests that while Dewey Cox might have been a cartoon, he was certainly an achy-breaky one.