Gag-a-second spoofs are without question the hardest comedic subgenre to pull off, because there's precious little holding them together beyond a raggedy collection of referential jokes and lowbrow silliness. Even those considered masters of the genre—Mel Brooks with Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team with Airplane!—have suffered innumerable low moments, and the recent spate of Scary/Date/Epic Movie parodies are about as bad as comedy gets. Though they teamed up many times on the beloved TV shows Freaks And Geeks and Undeclared, writer Judd Apatow and director Jake Kasdan are a little out of their comfort zone on Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, an uneven riff on musician biopics like Ray and Walk The Line. Apatow and Kasdan are skilled at getting the most out of gifted ensembles, but there's a world of difference between the sweet, character-based comedy of Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and the vaudevillian wackiness of Walk Hard.
Fortunately, they're blessed by having John C. Reilly, an endlessly nimble and endearing performer, to lead the film through its rough patches. Reilly plays Dewey Cox, a Johnny Cash/Ray Charles hybrid who found music on an Alabama farm after a tragedy robbed him of a brother and his sense of smell. When his family gives him the boot, Dewey runs off with his sweetheart (Kristen Wiig) and tries to make it as a musician, all while siring the dozen or so children he'll go on to neglect. Before long, Dewey's irrepressible genius finds the right ears—here, the trio of Hasidic Jews who run the entertainment industry—and he rockets up the charts in short order. But fame comes at a heavy price, as Dewey indulges in a buffet of vices from which only a June Carter-like tour mate (Jenna Fischer) can save him.
The filmmakers have cleverly conceived Dewey as a musical chameleon of Bob Dylan-esque proportions, capable of adapting his sound to suit any number of trends, including folk, psychedelic, disco, the Beatles in their Maharishi days, and, funniest of all, a Brian Wilson phase that incorporates every sound known to man on a single song. And the fake hits are mostly inspired, especially "Duet," which is loaded with entendre-filled lines like "In my dreams, you're blowing me some kisses." With a cast loaded with ringers from The Office, 30 Rock, Saturday Night Live, and other Apatow productions, Walk Hard offers a quantity of laughs that few comedies could match, yet it's likely to leave viewers vaguely unsatisfied, particularly when the closing minutes completely run out of steam. That's the danger of spoofs: You're only as good as your last laugh.