Rock Star does a neat trick of giving the people what they want. If millions of people fantasize about being plucked out of their daily drudgeries to become rock stars, then this film couldn't be better driven to encompass that impossible dream. With the character ambition of a Rocky, the fashion vanity of a Saturday Night Fever, and the fanatic excitement of a real heavy metal tour, director Stephen Herek unwraps a smart confection of the American dream. Rock Star could be a companion piece with Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous for its sincerely executed attempts at recreating a musical tone and mood reflective of its time. The story's theme that "the glamour of the rock 'n' roll high life isn't what it's cracked up to be" is about as pedestrian as they come, but it works like a charm in this well-crafted tour through the mid-'80s heyday of heavy metal excess.
Proving he has acting prowess when he's given something to do (Planet of the Apes will soon be a forgotten footnote), Mark Wahlberg triumphs as Chris Cole, a copy machine repairman by day and a Pennsylvania hard rock singer by night. When he's given the chance to replace his singing idol, Bobby Beers of Steel Dragon (even the made-up names for the bands have the right attitude of badness to them), he jumps.
Many of the film's thrills happen during Steel Dragon concert scenes with our hero tapping his metal coil for everyone to see. Chris' debut concert gives a surprise jolt of catastrophe and tells us more about Chris's inner state of body and mind than a novel could provide. Wahlberg has the right mix of lithe intensity and musical savvy to carry the film firmly on his shoulders and damn the torpedoes behind him.
The inclusion of musician actors, like drummer Jason Bonham and guitarist Zakk Wylde, as members of Steel Dragon gives the proto-heavy metal band credibility. (Sammy Hagar, Twiggy Ramirez and Brian Vander Ark are some of the musicians who contributed songs, adding to the authenticity of the music.)
Jennifer Aniston plays Chris' girl-next-door girlfriend and manager, Emily, who gets squeezed out of both duties when Chris starts touring with the band. Aniston does a lot with a little as an intelligent and loyal woman who has to choose her own life over being a full-time groupie.
Rock Star is a study in character revelation and sustained energy. It plays smack into the same audience that the VH-1 series "Behind the Music" has mined to great effect. There's nostalgia for a past yet to come that's at the heart of these kinds of musical projects and confirms the transparent origins of songs and musical movements. The journey to being a rock star and the life carried with it is a rarefied ideal. Rock Star deconstructs a heavy metal band with accuracy and a sense of irreverent fun. For two hours you too can become a heavy metal rock star. I guarantee you'll feel just like Mark Wahlberg.