In the '80s, Robert "Fish" Fishman was the drummer for a spandex-clad hair band called Vesuvius. But on the eve of the band's success, Fish got tossed back into the deep water as the group decides to trawl on to better things without him. 20 years later, Vesuvius is a platinum-selling phenom and Fish is an unemployed, ponytailed nobody living in his sister's attic.
But Fish gets an unexpected second chance at musical stardom when his teenage nephew, Matt, begs him to sit in as drummer for his fledgling—and floundering—group. It's an emo band called A.D.D. that desperately wants to play the high school prom. Fish agrees and shows up decked out in his hair-band best, determined to turn the king-and-queen slow dance into a heavy metal drum solo.
Rock on, dude!
Lead singer Curtis and bassist Amelia are disgusted, and say they're through with the aging rocker.
But then Fish lands them a real gig. And a viral YouTube video of Fish's unique (naked) rehearsal habits gets the band national attention. Next step on the road to rock god greatness? A sleazy manager who shows up wanting to take them on the road. "There's a lotta biz buzz back in Hollyweird about you guys," the rep says.
And that's all it takes for Fish. He sets out to make up for all the alcohol guzzling, hotel room smashing and rock 'n' rolling he never got to do.
Beneath all his never-growing-up neuroses and self-centered angst, Fish really cares about his teen bandmates. He eventually evolves out of his 20-year hatred of his former friends. He even takes an encouraging and somewhat fatherly role with Curtis—whose dad abandoned him when he was a child.
Amelia is portrayed as a never-smiling punker ("Smiling is for the weak"). But she also displays the most levelheaded and loyal maturity in the group. The members of A.D.D. have their falling out, but in the end they rally to support one another.
In order to make a gig in another state, Amelia suggests that she and the other teen band members lie about going to a church retreat where they can "learn about the Bible." One of the rockers in Vesuvius wears a large silver cross around his neck. Fish locks "heavy metal devil horns" with his brother-in-law.
The members of A.D.D. practice together via Internet connection. Fish, however, doesn't quite get the visual aspect of the technology, evidenced by the fact that he practices in the nude. Audiences are thus given lengthy shots of Fish sitting and standing completely naked with only his genitals carefully obscured. These practice sessions are made into a YouTube video and we see even school children watching it. Fish also walks around on other occasions in nothing but boxers or briefs.
Throughout the film, various female fans/groupies are shown in form-fitting, midriff- and cleavage-baring outfits. Curtis' mom, Kim, and Amelia both wear a few low-cut tops. Seamy sexuality makes repeated appearances in the dialogue and jokes. Fish shares his opinions about rock 'n' roll sex several times. But most of the sleazy lines are given to the group's smarmy manager. For example, he tells Curtis that he'll need "two d--ks" to take care of all the women he'll meet as a rock star. He makes references to the obscene acronym "MILF" when hitting on Curtis' mom. And his gag-worthy one-liners get crasser from there.
Amelia kisses Matt. Kim kisses Fish.
There's a stage full of pratfalls designed to stir laughter—usually with Fish serving as brunt of the bump. For instance, at the beginning of the film when Fish discovers that his band has dumped him, he rushes out to stop them from leaving. Through a series of events he gets dragged behind a moving vehicle, falls over a guardrail, gets thrown off the roof of a van and lands face-first in the middle of the street. From there, head whomps, ankle snaps, rooftop tumbles, crotch thumps, drum-stick-to-the-forehead smacks and belly-flop-off-the-stage crashes happen at regular intervals.
For Fish, being a rock 'n' roll star means trashing a hotel room or two—a mission he pursues to his teen bandmates chagrin. Eventually all his nutty and painful shenanigans leave him hobbling around in various leg and arm braces.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Another perceived necessity of rockdom for Fish is the constant swilling of some kind of alcoholic beverage. So even though the rest of his fellow A.D.D.-ers are all teenagers (and are never seen with alcohol), Fish always has a beer to his lips on the tour bus. He also throws back plenty of hard liquor and even entertains partygoers by spewing and igniting mouthfuls of booze. One of the Vesuvius guys is seen repeatedly chugging from a bottle of whiskey. And beer and alcohol are present at all of the clubs and bars that A.D.D. plays.
A.D.D.'s original drummer was grounded for reportedly taking hash-brownies to school. It's said that one of his teachers ate one and passed out.
Other Negative Elements
Before that teacher came to, someone drew a penis on her forehead. Fish and Matt steal Matt's father's van for their road trip. The management rep manipulates Curtis by making him think that Fish is sleeping with his mother. And when that creepy guy's dialogue isn't leaning toward the sordid, he's saying things like, "You're gonna crap your khakis." In preparation for his first concert with A.D.D., Fish vomits into his hand and puts the mess in his pocket, saying, "I like to rock a pocket of puke." Curtis, for his part, wears a Slipknot T-shirt.
I get why formulaic films like this are made. Hey, if a studio is going to invest gazillions of samolians in creating a comedy, then the execs figure it better be chock-full of all the same stuff that glutted the last dozen moneymakers.
"No need to actually stop and think before the joke hits," they must say during the green-light meeting. "Just gross 'em out and make sure somebody drops trou. Give us crude sexual allusions and raw references to genitalia. Oh, and we need an obnoxious, drunken, Will Ferrell-like lummox at center stage. That's comedy, boys! That's what makes a real knee-slapper."
Yes, I understand the crass monetary motives driving all this, um, crassness. But I still have to say it's highly unfortunate. And not simply because comedy can be and has been better. But because if you look past the formulaic rot of The Rocker you see a writing crew and a cast that seem to have so much more to offer. There are moments here when the recipe slips and we see what could have been. Times when Rainn Wilson feels approachable and genuinely funny. Instances in which the humor steps back from the yuck and you actually smile. Seconds strung together that hint at the fun family film with laudable lessons that could have emerged.