In The Rocker, a long-in-the-tooth, generally clueless rock 'n' roll never-was takes up with an outfit of kids half his age, after getting kicked out of a band with corporate-rock ambitions. Though some of the particulars have changed, the film is essentially School Of Rock II, and the comparison does The Rocker no favors. Rainn Wilson, though eager and fitfully amusing, still seems like Jack Black's understudy, the kids aren't as charming or talented, the music isn't nearly as good, and the comedy careens from grounded to crazy and cartoonish. It's a slave to formula, and it hits its marks satisfyingly enough to make for a pleasant time-passer, but Wilson and a loaded supporting cast are never as funny as they should be.
With his '80s hair-metal band Vesuvius on the cusp of a big break, raggedy drummer Wilson gets booted for not conforming to the glammed-up image favored by the label. Decades later, Wilson is a middle-aged washout living in his sister's attic, while Vesuvius has become the biggest band in the country. Wilson gets a second chance at glory when his nephew's band, A.D.D., needs a drummer for an upcoming gig at the high-school prom; though his wanky tendencies get the best of him on a cover of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," he convinces the kids to keep him on. When a webcam clip of Wilson drumming in the nude become a YouTube sensation, A.D.D. gets put on the fast track to stardom, embarking on a tour that lets Wilson indulge in groupies, booze, hotel-trashing, and other perks of the rock lifestyle.
One of qualities that made Jack Black in School Of Rock funny—or, for that matter, Wilson's Dwight Schrute character on TV's The Office—is that his outrageousness stands out against the drab banality of professional life. The Rocker, by contrast, goes after every laugh it can get, whether it's the Office-like image of Wilson's would-be Neil Peart logging time at a cubicle with a headset, or Wilson chasing down a moving van like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. Another huge liability is A.D.D.'s music: Wilson and his giant drum kit are made for metal, but he's forced to keep time to a collection of ineffectual indie-pop songs. Only a brilliant supporting turn by 30 Rock's Jason Sudeikis, playing the ultimate d-bag A&R; rep, suggests what Wilson's middle-aged rock odyssey might have been.