Monday, October 29, 2012

Rocktober: 'Rock Star' (2001)

A few months ago, I wrote a story for Las Vegas Weekly about Las Vegas as the new capital of hair metal, and I asked most of the musicians I interviewed for their thoughts on the Rock of Ages movie, which had just been released. They almost universally loathed that movie (I did too), but I was surprised to hear from a couple of them that the movie they felt better represented their experience in the '80s rock scene was the 2001 Mark Wahlberg flop Rock Star. I wouldn't have considered it as some bastion of authenticity to seek out for this project, but hearing people like Ron Keel heartily recommend it made me wonder if there was something about it that everyone else had missed.

I can certainly see how '80s rockers would have embraced Rock Star, if for no other reason than it employed a bunch of them (including Miljenko Matijevic of Steelheart, Blas Elias of Slaughter, Jeff Pilson of Dokken, Jeff Scott Soto of Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force and Zakk Wylde of Ozzy Osbourne's band). The movie also totally glorifies the excesses of hair metal, even though main character Chris Cole (Mark Wahlberg) ultimately walks away from it all. If it's an authentic representation of how life was for these guys in the '80s, then life must have been pretty amazing, since Chris, even as the plucked-from-obscurity replacement for a hugely popular singer, has women constantly throwing themselves at him, buys fancy cars and clothes, has access to fabulous parties, and never develops any issues with drugs or alcohol.

The movie is very loosely inspired by the real story of Tim "Ripper" Owens, who went from singing in a Judas Priest tribute band to fronting the real thing when singer Rob Halford left. That basic idea is all the movie takes from real life, though, and Judas Priest is never mentioned, nor are any of their songs on the '80s rock-filled soundtrack (the band later even disavowed the movie). Although Owens joined Judas Priest in 1996 as the band's fortunes were already fading, Rock Star moves the setting to 1985, when fictional hair metal band Steel Dragon is producing hit singles and selling out arenas. When the band's singer quits in a huff (outing himself as gay, in the movie's one other reference to Judas Priest), the remaining members hire Chris, fresh from his own working-class tribute band, as the replacement.

Cue the rock-star cliches, as Chris gets caught up in stardom, neglects his saintly girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston) and discovers the perils of fame (i.e., he gets no respect from the other members of Steel Dragon). It's all laid out in a straightforward and fairly dull fashion, and Chris never descends into any truly tragic or dangerous circumstances. In the end he just casually walks away from Steel Dragon and apparently into the beginning of the grunge movement, in a ridiculous ending that finds him in Seattle with a greasy haircut and a sweater singing a terrible wuss-rock song in a coffeehouse. I was actually sort of optimistic early on, when Chris and his girlfriend seem to be equally embracing a hedonistic lifestyle, that the movie would go in an interesting sexually progressive direction instead of turning the girlfriend into the typical nag. But this isn't a movie interested in doing anything but the obvious thing, which does a disservice to the real '80s rockers it's supposed to celebrate. The Steel Dragon songs are pretty good, though.

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