WALK HARD: The Dewey Cox Story—–“Hey, have you heard the news?….Dewey Cox died….dead.” Thus singeth the farewell dirge that concludes the timeless story of a true legend of hardness, a Cox who walked among us. Directed by Jake Kasdan, who co-wrote this brilliant 2007 fake bio with on-a-roll hitmaker Judd Apatow. The prodigious Apatow had two other fun-fests that year, Knocked Up and Superbad, both successful. Droves of the humor-hungry also flocked to the idiotic yuks of Norbit, Rush Hour 3 and I Now Prounounce You Chuck and Larry. But this hilarious, perfectly performed, dead-on lampoon, featuring nearly three dozen great mock-up songs, with a standout John C. Reilly in the lead only dredged up $18,317,000 on home turf and a smidge under $2,259,000 abroad. Since it cost $35,000,000 to make, it went down as a notable failure. The Cox-blocking public really missed the boat this time. It’s a classic, one of the best comedies of the era, one that’ll hold laugh currency value for a long time to come. *
The talent-treasure that is John C. Reilly, 42 when he got his hands on Cox, had steadily impressed in three dozen diverse features since 1989. Though Oscar-nominated as Supporting Actor in 2002 for Chicago (and was the best thing in that picture), and continuing to nail roles a decade after this flick, his rock’n’roll immersion into the lives, loves and music/s of Dewey Cox might stand as the career-definer for the big guy.
“I do believe in you. I just know you’re gonna fail.”
See, Cox is the musical/cultural history of A Great Land all rolled up in one man. From humble beginnings, country lad Dewey journeys from the early 50s across turbulent decades and tumbling incarnations to destiny a few years into the new millennium, when he gave his last all in a last concert (for all). All. Soft country, jailhouse rock and blues, through pot, acid and flower power, into punk, coke and television specials (which sounds like a good name for a band), Dewey was there. Along for the ride are his women (a man like Dewey draws them like the rest of us gasp for unworthy breath), including the scold ‘Edith’ (Kristen Wiig, another wonder), and the deep pool that is ‘Darlene’ (Jenna Fischer, fab).
Dew encounters the famous, including a snarling, switch-blade wielding Elvis, put over by Jack White: “It’s called Ka-ra-te, man. Only two kinds of people know it, The Chinese and The King. And one of them is me.” Cox does time (hard time), he has trouble with toilets, he likes animals, and all the while is backed by his loyal, long-suffering bandmates Tim Meadows (offering temptation of all kinds—and good for ya, too), Chris Parnell and Matt Besser (delightful sly line readings).
Cox’ tales blend in familiar personal-pop history from the likes of Johnny Cash and June Carter, Donovan, James Brown, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, many more.
The send-up of musical bios and their famous folk would not work if the songs don’t—but they do, to a fare-thee-well tee. All or part of 33 original numbers spangle the sublime silliness, items like “Guilty As Charged” and “Let Me Hold You (Little Man)” are just too much fun. Brilliant stuff here.
Originally released at 98 minutes, but skip that and seek the extended cut which taps 120. Raymond J. Barry is the unforgiving ‘Pa Cox’ and Margo Martindale is ideal as ill-fated ‘Ma’. With David Krumholtz, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Ed Helms, Jane Lynch, Harold Ramis, Simon Helberg, Frankie Muntz (as Buddy Holly). The Beatles are played by Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman. Jackson Browne, Jewel and Lyle Lovett show up as themselves for the finish. Those marvelous songs were written by Dan Bern & Mike Viola, Charlie Wadhams, Marshall Crenshaw and Van Dyke Parks.
* It did at least pick up an additional $16,000,000 from DVD sales. This film deserved to be a Big hit, but maybe it’s oddly fitting for the legend of an American Titan like Dewey Cox that its hardness continues to manifest through these troubled times. We can only hope we mere human fans are worthy of his mighty legacy.