Film Friday: ‘Walk Hard’, ‘National Treasure’

by W. Andrew Powell

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

The holidays are upon us, and as the year draws to a close a few, final big films slip their way into theatres. This week, check out a hilarious mock music biography, a sequel to Disney’s National Treasure, Tim Burton‘s dark musical, a Cold War drama, and the story of a dead man who points his wife to life after his own death.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
With a stand-out John C. Reilly in the title role, Walk Hard is a mock biopic about the legendary Dewey Cox, and it makes Ray and Walk The Line look like mere footnotes in music history.

The story starts with a young Dewey chopping his brother in half, but from there it’s all down hill.

Dewey tumbles through each era of music like a chameleon, blending in with the latest trends, and then moving on, failing, and moving on again. He hangs out with feuding Beatles, marries two women (at the same time), has a pack of kids, and fights a few drug troubles.

Walk Hard is at its best, and funniest, when it pokes fun at the music industry, but it also has a very entertaining story. Following the theme of every other music biopic, the tone sets the entire film up to be an almost loving tribute to the highs and lows of the business.

Reilly is the perfect star for the film as well, with a voice that carries even the dumbest lyrics. In the past Reilly has been relegated to supporting roles, but in Walk Hard he steps up and delivers a hilarious, marquee performance. Co-stars Jenna Fischer and Tim Meadows, plus impressive music, and a number of outrageous cameos also lift Walk Hard above the average spoof film and into a whole new realm.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Nicolas Cage leaps into another adventure involving treasure and American history in the follow-up to the 2004 hit film, National Treasure. Cage is Ben Gates, a history geek who finds out that his great-great grandfather is being blamed for conspiracy in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

With a lead that tells him that the president’s “Book of Secrets” can reveal the truth, Ben and his friends (played by Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha) set out to find a treasure-trove of secrets that can also clear his family’s name.

Once again directed by Jon Turteltaub and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Book of Secrets should prove to be an exciting, entertaining romp through historical facts. However, expect to make some leaps of faith this time around as the plot connects imaginary dots between history and legend. Critical commentary is scarce so far, but a review at Killer Movie Reviews called the story “a jumble of fluff that is as annoying as it is dumb.”

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Who knew? Apparently Johnny Depp can sing, and in Tim Burton’s latest film, a musical adaptation of Stephen Sondheim‘s musical, Depp takes on the title role as a barber who seeks revenge.

The premise is a dark one: Sweeney Todd is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, looses his wife and daughter, and on finally escaping prison vows to kill the people who wronged him. With the help of Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) and her “special” meat pies, Sweeney Todd becomes a deadly barber, and manages to hide the evidence.

What amazes me is that reviews have been genuinely positive across the board. Even though Depp has no singing experience, and director Tim Burton sometimes misses the important notes in his films, critics seem to love Sweeney Todd. Richard Roeper of Ebert & Roeper also noted that, “even for Tim Burton and Johnny Depp it’s really dark material.”

Also opening this week…

Charlie Wilson’s War stars Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a trio of high-profile people who help the CIA with a covert operation to end the Cold War. Based on a true story, the three traveled around the world to form alliances that would eventually bring the fall of the Soviet Union. Variety, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly all had great things to say about the film and Oscar buzz is already building.

Lastly, Hilary Swank stars in P.S. I Love You, a dramedy about a woman who loses her husband, but through his foresight, finds herself on a quest to enjoy life again. Don’t expect a lot from this lukewarm story though as the reviews have been resolutely bad. John Anderson of Variety even went so far as to note a “high ick factor” that dominates the way the film deals with death.

Next week: a look ahead at films arriving in 2008.

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