If I'm going to be honest, my expectations for "Walk Hard" were minimal - I mean, how many laughs - even with Judd Apatow, Entertainment Weekly's "Smartest Man in Hollywood" (nothing against Judd Apatow, but uh...what?) writing - can one mine out of the Johnny Cash story? "Walk Hard" doesn't always work - in fact, there are times when the jokes fall hard - but the picture's gags that work outnumber those that don't by a good margin.
Early in the film, Cox stands under a concert hall full of waiting fans, thinking because, as a stagehand is informed, he needs to think about his whole life before he can play. The movie then flashes back to Dewey's childhood (where, amusingly, he's played by Reilly), where he and his brother play in the field, daring each other to do dangerous things. This all leads to a horrific and unexpected accident where Dewey kills his brother (Dewey's father: "The wrong child died.")
Dewey gets married at 14 to 12-year old Edith (Kristen Wiig, also an adult playing a kid) and finally gets his chance at stardom when the entertainer at a local nightclub loses a fight and injures his hands. A group of Jewish record executives sit in the back and like what they hear, which leads to Dewey's big hit, "Walk Hard".
Despite a #1 record and success, his marriage to Edith begins to sour when Dewey's never there. Unknown to her, he's headed down a dark path thanks to his drummer (Tim Meadows) introducing him to drugs. Eventually, Dewey also meets up with backup singer Darlene (Jenna Fischer) and, despite being married, he strikes up a romance and leaves Edith. Only Darlene isn't aware of Edith and vice versa. Even when screaming for Edith to leave him, he's still writing songs in his head ("Yeah, that's not a bad title but please don't leave me", he says after screaming "Don't leave me, Edith!")
The movie cracks a few of its best jokes in the second half, such as Dewey's visit with the Beatles (played by Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman and Justin Long) that results in an animated sequence when Dewey takes LSD with them, although not before the Beatles start a Beatle-brawl. There's also an amusing little stretch in San Francisco where Dewey tries to make a stand for midgets everywhere in song. The scenes throughout with Tim Meadows are some of the film's best (it's a great little supporting performance), as well. The film's finish in modern day is also hysterical, as Dewey is presented with how his music is being used today before he sets out to get the now AARP-aged band back together for a big performance.
Again, a few gags here-and-there don't quite get the laugh they were looking for, but the movie's superb choice to actually try and make sort of a story of its own instead of repeating scenes note-for-note like some other parodies have lately. The movie also hits the tone just right, not going too overboard or making the characters too cartoonish, similar to other parodies lately.
The film's best asset is Reilly, who is just hysterical in the lead role, and also manages to sing quite well (as he also demonstrated in "Chicago".) The film boasts a set of excellent supporting efforts, such as Fischer, Meadows, Harold Ramis, Jack White (great as Elvis), Jack Black (very funny as McCartney) and many others.
Despite the involvement of Entertainment Weekly's "Smartest Man in Hollywood" (if he's so smart, maybe Entertainment Weekly could use him to turn their magazine around), I didn't expect a great deal of "Walk Hard", but I found the movie to be a pleasant surprise - a delightfully funny parody that may hit a few wrong notes, but Reilly's performance and some of the film's gags (especially in the second half) work splendidly.
If you're thinking that "Walk Hard"'s extended cut is going to be another one of those instances of an extended cut offering another minute of footage...you would be wrong. If you're thinking the epic (well, two hours is pretty long for a comedy) extended edition of the movie is going to be a dazzling experience...well, not right, either. The extended cut of the movie adds another 24 minutes to the picture, which is mostly extended footage. While there is some amusing stuff here, the theatrical cut of the picture is a fat-free 96 minutes, while the extended cut starts to feel too long. Still, fans will appreciate having the option to pick up this extended cut.
This Blu-Ray edition includes both editions of the film - the theatrical release and the extended cut, which is called, "American Cox: The Unbearably Long, Self-Indulgent Director's Cut".
VIDEO: The film is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 (1080P/AVC). The Blu-Ray edition looked mildly better than the very good DVD presentation. Sharpness and detail were a main improvement, with the film appearing crisper and more well-defined throughout this presentation.
The presentation did not show any instances of print flaws or edge enhancement, but a few instances of very minor noise were spotted on a couple of occasions. Colors remained bright and warm, with pleasing saturation (colors lean towards looking overly saturated, but that is the intended look of the film and colors never look smeary.) Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English & French), as well as Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's sound design, as one might expect, is largely front-heavy. However, the musical sequences do open the audio out a little bit, with some reinforcement of the music from the surrounds. Audio quality was largely quite pleasing, with clear, well-recorded dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: Commentary from John C. Reilly, Jake Kasdan, Judd Apatow and Lew Morton. The commentary track is pretty amusing, as the group crack jokes, chat about how they came on board the movie and behind-the-scenes tales. While not one of the best tracks ever, the group manage to offer a good mixture of insight and humor.
"Line-o-Rama" offers a series of alternate takes, some of which are pretty hysterical. "Music of Walk the Line" is a featurette that discusses how the musicians were brought in to craft some of the songs, as well as Reilly's involvement in trying to get the songs of Dewey down. There's also a few other tidbits, such as the fact that Fischer's singing voice was provided by another artist. "The Real Dewey Cox" is a joke featurette that has Reilly and others (including a set of musicians) chatting about the real Dewey Cox and how Reilly was thrilled to play him. That, and he looks just like him! Har har.
4 deleted scenes are offered, the most delightful of which is - of course - more footage with "the Beatles". Finally, we get the full song performances, as well as trailers for other titles from the studio.
On the "Unrated 2-DVD Edition", there's "The Final Word", a 25-minute interview with "John Houseman", where he interviews the "current" Dewey Cox (Reilly in old make-up), as well as some of the other characters in the movie. While not hysterical, there's definitely some very funny moments scattered throughout this improv interview. We also get an additional 4 deleted/alternate scenes, although the funniest still remains the "Beatles" scene that was offered with the other edition of the film (that scene is carried over here, too.) "Cox Sausage" (Har har.) offers outtakes of a "Cox Sausage" ad. "Bull on the Loose" sees a bull used for a scene get out of control, taking out an expensive HD camera and getting out of the pen that was holding it. "A Christmas Song" is an amusing little holiday video, although the "Cox" jokes are getting seriously tired by this point.
"Song Demos" is a particularly great feature - it offers the audio demos from the singers who came up with the songs in the picture. It's nice to hear their takes, which are often a little more serious or simply different musically. We also get a set of alternate takes, including one for "Walk Hard". Finally, we get "Tiler Nilson: A Cockumentary".
Those who have players who are Blu-Ray Live enabled (and hooked to the internet) will be able to download some very brief additional featurettes and trailers. This is Sony's first attempt at a title with Blu-Ray Live features. I remain curious (although admittedly somewhat skeptical) about how the Blu-Ray Live format will go over with consumers. The menus on this title are also a little slow and clunky.
Final Thoughts: "Walk Hard" takes the rather unfunny genre of musical biopics and manages to craft a mostly very funny and rather sweet comedy that offers a marvelous, spot-on performance from John C. Reilly. The Blu-Ray edition offers solid audio/video quality, along with both versions of the film and plenty of extras. Recommended.
The Film B+