For about the first ten minutes, Rock Star seems set to be a unique, charming film about the life of an obsessed music fan.
Chris (Mark Wahlberg) bases his entire existence around the band Steel Dragon. His tribute group – he despises the term cover band – channels the intense fantasy that, by looking and sounding just like lead singer Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng), he can somehow share in the rock'n'roll glory.
Chris is not your average alienated, angry teen. Quite the contrary; his parents (Steel Dragon fans themselves from way back) encourage his obsessive lifestyle; and his girlfriend, Emily (Jennifer Aniston), ably embraces the role of band manager. These vignettes of Chris' normal life are the best part of the film.
Unexpectedly, Chris will get his chance to live his dream when Beers leaves the band. Hurled into the life of a rock star constantly on tour, he faces all the usual temptations – women, money, booze (drugs are discreetly erased from this chronicle).
We can safely expect that director Stephen Herek (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, 1989) and writer John Stockwell (Cheaters, 2000) will soon come around to showing us the decrepit, unglamorous side of this vocation – and especially the toll it takes on Chris' and Emily's relationship.
But the film plunges from workable to abysmal cliché the moment someone challenges Chris with the immortal line: "Why don't you write your own songs?"
At that point, the die is cast: the ethical trajectory of the story must take Chris away from what initially seemed a perfectly happy state of perpetual homage, and lead him to that dreary turnabout when he faces a cafe audience and warbles some autobiographical, folky tune backed by acoustic guitar and cello. It is a cringe-inducing spectacle.
Rock Star could have been much better than it is, but it's not all bad. On many levels, it plays like a heterosexual version of Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine (1998) and, like that film, expertly mixes musical classics from the period (the '80s) and contemporary pastiches.
Wahlberg is an impressive screen presence, and Aniston has fun in the scenes where she is pitted against the decadent tour-fixture, Tania (Dagmara Dominczyk).
MORE Herek: 101 Dalmatians
© Adrian Martin November 2001