Faux-biopic brings the parody back to comedy’s good graces

Big-screen parodies have been in pretty rough shape lately. Left in the not-so-capable hands of the Wayans and their ilk the last few silver screen satires have been extended games of name-that-scene replacing jokes with obvious insight-lacking references. Yet despite the abysmally poor quality of Epic Movie Date Movie and the rest studios keep churning them out and audiences keep flocking to them in droves ( Scary Movie 5 in 2008? Yikes .)

Hopefully Walk Hard marks a turning point. Yes its central joke revolves around the fact that the main character’s name is Dewey Cox. Yes it doesn’t even take five minutes before a character is yelling out “I need Cox.” Still Walk Hard gives the impression that the people behind it have not only seen the movies they’re lampooning they actually understand them placing it head and shoulders above the “Movie” movies.

Like so many biopic stars before him John C. Reilly plays Cox from a not-so-convincing teenager through to his not-so-convincing golden years (the old age makeup brings out an odd resemblance to Tim Robbins). After inciting a riot at a middle-school sock-hop Cox leaves home for bigger and better things like superstardom and PCP addiction. The film hits all the usual milestones — the marital problems the drugs the encounters with celebrities — and if the story is predictable that’s pretty much the point.

A stellar cast helps liven the proceedings. Reilly is perfect as the in-over-his-head country boy who takes the world by storm (and he can really belt out a tune as he proved in Chicago ). Tim Meadows long overdue for a good feature comedy after years of being known as “that black guy who was on Saturday Night Live for a really long time” is particularly good as Cox’s longtime drummer. Even Jenna Fischer best known as the cute receptionist on The Office makes for a surprisingly good vixen.

On top of that Walk Hard is absolutely crammed with cameos. Everyone from Malcom in the Middle’s Frankie Muniz to Jack Black and Jack White pop up as musical figures they don’t even vaguely resemble (you know who they are because of the characters’ odd tendency to repeatedly state their name and age) and a few regulars from The Office and Arrested Development steal a surprising chunk of scenes. That’s not even mentioning the guest stars at the inevitable Grammy-style tribute — not to give too much away but it’s a lineup you’re not likely to see again.

Walk Hard isn’t a ground-breaking comedy. It doesn’t do for the parody what the also-Apatow-produced Superbad did for the coming-of-age flick or The 40-Year-Old Virgin for the sex comedy. It is funny though which is more than you can say for most of the genre these days.