The success of a slew of recent biopics featuring famous and tortured musicians has ensured that the genre could remain sacred for only so long. After all, we are a nation that embraced four “Scary Movie” films. “Walk Hard,” an unapologetic take on the 2005 Johnny Cash film “Walk the Line,” follows Dewey Cox’s (John C. Reilly, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”) journey from a boy to a tragic bluesman. The film is the latest installment from writing, directing and producing wunderkind Judd Apatow (“Superbad”).

Brian Merlos
Eat your heart out, Dov Charney. (Courtesy of Columbia)

Dewey’s love affair with the musical world begins soon after his involvement in the accidental murder of his older brother, Nate, who is diagnosed as “a particularly bad case of somebody being cut in half.” Fortunately, Dewey is a quick study on guitar, otherwise, he would have been in for some pretty expensive therapy bills.

Married at the age of 14 and discovered singing in a bar soon after, Dewey’s rise to stardom is fast and furious. True to biopic form, the fame comes with women, drugs and an inevitable downfall. As the decades pass, changes to Dewey’s style accurately reflect what was really going on in the musical world. Subtle jokes include off-hand mentions of legends like Bob Dylan and a not-to-miss segment when Dewey meets the Beatles that hit home for those of us who aren’t 12-year-old middle schoolers looking for a cheaper laugh.

The actual music of the film is also a pleasant surprise. Reilly, who has a background in musical theater, does double duty, acting and singing all of Cox’s songs. The recordings, including innuendo-laden ballad “Let’s Duet,” are catchy and somewhat believable as number one hits.

Apatow and fellow writer and director Jake Kasdan (“Freaks and Geeks”) rely heavily on Reilly, who portrays Dewey from age 13 until he’s a senior citizen. The actor’s ease with both comedic and melodramatic material earns him the right to upgrade from sidekick status into a full-fledged member of the merry band of Frat Packers, such as Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson. While Reilly shoulders much of the comedic burden, the film’s supporting cast work hard to pick up some of the slack. Tim Meadows (“Mean Girls”) is especially good as Dewey’s bandmate and enabler. Other familiar faces, ghosts of “Saturday Night Live” past and present, as well as some of Apatow’s favorites, show up throughout.

The weakness, as is often the case in this type of film, are the female supporting leads. Kristen Wiig (“Knocked Up”) and Jenna Fischer (“The Office”) do just fine as the women in Dewey’s life, but they aren’t given much to work with. Fischer, as Dewey’s second wife and backup singer Darlene, is wide-eyed and pretty, but does little more than nag Dewey into being a cleaner, though somewhat less entertaining, man.

The film doesn’t do anything wrong: the jokes are funny and the plot is clever. However, “Walk Hard” lacks that fuzzy, feel good ending that made other Apatow films like “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” We like laughing at Dewey, and we tap our toes to his music, but we don’t really care if everything works out, even though we know it will.

Rating: 3 and a half out of 5 stars

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

At Showcase

Columbia

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