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by Johnny Cash
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
"Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"
"I Walk the Line" meets "Saturday Night Live" in this comedic spoof that is an elongated skit on the musical legend legend. Freed from the constraints of reality and the threat of defamation suits, this pseudo-bio probes all the living cliches of idolatry and personal demons of the rock star with parody power-thrusters blazing.
Dewey Cox, the teenager (Conner Rayburn), is the lesser of two brothers and the one Pa deplores. The apple of his eye is Daniel (Kevin Montgomery), a lad for whom the terms "precocious" and "genius" aren't adequate. One day Daniel decides to show off his dueling skills and prods Dewey to some sword-play in the barn with sheath-covered machetes. Reluctantly, knowing his brother's superiority in all things, Deweu goes through the motions. Daniel keeps taunting him to do more, and Dewey gradually starts swinging away. Finally, Dewey swings wide, the sheath goes flying off, and the blade, aimed at Daniel's midsection, cuts his brother in half.
Pa is livid. Screaming at Dewey and Ma, he utters the words Dewey will never forget (all the more so for it being repeated throughout his lifetime), "The wrong son died!!!" No subtle parent, he.
Later, he comes upon a trio of old, black, blues singers whose music moves him. He expresses a desire to try it. Handed a guitar, he echoes what he's heard with a savant's gift for imitation, and his life's destiny is set. From there, we follow him on a path to rock glory starting with his first hit single, "Walk Hard."
Paralleling the path of the music icon being satirized here, the late Johnny Cash, Dewey (John C. Reilly from age 14) marries young, has a houseful of kids, and pays little to no attention to them while on the road, which is just about always. Then, he meets Darlene (sensual Jenna Fischer) (the June Carter character) who sweeps him off his feet and away from his groupie and drug life. They marry but when she learns he hasn't divorced his wife, she leaves. Will she return?
While she's still around, they perform together, providing one of the film's musical highlights, an hilarious double-entendre song with full country lyrics and style, "Let's Duet." "I'm gonna beat off... [beat, beat] all of my demons" it starts off, and goes on in similarly erotic fashion. Her participation tells us all we need to know about this mutual attraction. She taunts him with the promise of a kiss. Taunts us, too.
While it's true that "I Walk the Line" served as the road map for this satire on what lies behind the life of a superstar, it's a stand-in for an array of biopics of musical figures ("Ray"), stories which conform to adversity patterns that seem inevitable the minute you reach the top ten in any medium. A hit is your ticket to descend from storybook success to self-made hell. Cash's degradation into drugs and wastefulness provides a particularly colorful look at a man skidding to the depths of his soul and the love of a woman bringing him a life raft. The religious element of Cash's redemption is, thankfully, not brought into it.
The story here is structured chronologically, taking us through the musical styles from the 50's up to the early 80's. Through it, his band remains fixed and faithful, if somewhat complaining as their man and benefactor goes through his ups and downs. Equally fixed are his parents, with his mom's incorruptible love and dad's unchangeable anger and disappointment.
After the first few surprise laughs set you up for a belly-full, after a while they don't always work (what else is new?). But, good ones are sprinkled throughout. Patience is tested by the 2-hour time frame, and lapses in the flow of new jokes on the theme give it the occasional forced quality (that old symptom of too much screen time for the wrong reasons), but director/co-writer Jake Kasdan ("Freaks and Geeks" TV, "The TV Set") and co-writer Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up," "Superbad") show considerable skill in sticking to consistency in the style and detail of their material (and avoiding the Cash style in the music). That alone, recommends it as a worthwhile comedy, skittish though it may be.
Much rests on the original music for all this and composer Michael Andrews makes it thematic and vital, much of the songs capable of standing on their own. This is going to be one helluva soundtrack (see below). The visuals capture the times as well as the music does and kudos go to cinematographer Uta Briesewitz, production designer Jefferson Sage, wardrobe by Debra McGuire and all the genius craftspeople involved.
The pugnacious John C. Reilly may be getting himself into Will Ferrell territory here, but it's not like he hasn't prepared himself for this rare starring role with such risible items as "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" and "A Prairie Home Companion." The man is gifted and knows no bounds. Walking hard, for him... effortless.
~~ Jules Brenner