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"Rock Star" has the big hair, big appetites, groupies and crotch-binding leather, but lacks the edge of real heavy metal. 

Almost Famous

Do you wannabe a rock star? Well then, plunk down your hard-earned $7-plus and enter the world of "Rock Star," a cliché-ridden, giddy ride on the wish-fulfillment roller coaster of celebrity. Based loosely on the true experiences of a salesman who was tapped in 1997 to replace the lead singer of Judas Priest, this Mark Wahlberg vehicle attempts to strike so many recognizable chords it resounds with hollow reverb.

Sporting a generic title and unastounding production values, "Rock Star" is a far cry from last year's underappreciated "Almost Famous." Lacking the insider's perspective that gave Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous" such spark and verve, Stephen Herek's "Rock Star" seems content to operate on a single, shallow premise: Given the chance, every red-blooded male (and perhaps female, though in the rock world that gender seems relegated to stereotypical visions of varying sizes of breasts) would jump at the chance to enter the world of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

Of course, one also has to question the choice of directors. Is the man behind "The Mighty Ducks," "101 Dalmatians" and "Mr. Holland's Opus" truly up to the job? In hindsight, my answer is a resounding "No way, man!" While those movies are more than worthy, they just don't reveal the requisite edginess needed to capture the rock-star world.

His casting choices, however, show promise. Who better than Mark Wahlberg to play a man of limited talent who gets to be a star? He's Chris Cole, a Pittsburgh salesman by day and singer in the heavy metal tribute band Blood Pollution by night. Mimicking their idols, a British metal band called Steel Dragon, Cole and fellow bloody polluters are content to be small fish in a relatively small pond. After all, it's the '80s and rock stars are the rage, from the top of their lanky manes down to their runny mascara-ed eyes. But Chris is such a Steel Dragon purist his own band kicks him to the curb. His manager-girlfriend Emily (Jennifer Anniston) goes with him.

Then out of nowhere Chris gets a phone call from none other than his idols' road manager (Timothy Spall). It seems on a larger scale, Steel Dragon is mirroring his own band experience — they, too, want to jettison bad boy frontman (Jason Flemyng). Wham! Bam! Thank you, rock gods and Chris — now calling himself Izzy — is off to audition in Los Angeles. Emily, once again, follows him.

One doesn't need an advanced degree to figure out that Chris/Izzy will make the band. Or that he's gonna soon learn the truth behind the old warning to be careful what you wish for. With his puppy-dog looks on full view, Wahlberg seems to be caught in a reprise of his "Boogie Nights" role. Anniston, though required to do nothing more than flesh out the long-suffering girlfriend role, acquits herself nicely. And Herek gives the musical numbers that same zest and over-the-top glitz of a Poison music video.

"Rock Star" does have two memorable things to recommend — the pouty cinematography of Ueli Steiger, and Spall. As the band's pimp-cum-road manager, Spall is the textbook definition of jaded decadence. Unshockable, he's simultaneously sincere and sinister. When he coos that he can get anybody anything they want, one believes.

So why doesn't this exercise in nostalgic wish fulfillment play better? Simple: It lacks the balls-to-the-walls energy and egotism of the music it wants to emulate. Just like Blood Pollution mimics its idols, "Rock Star" unreels as a tribute movie to a myriad of better rock musicals.

Instead of just offering us the groupies, drugs and the legendary partying we've heard and read about, Herek and company want to have it both ways. We also get preached to. "Rock Star" is a fatuous fantasy that one minute preaches the importance of following one's dreams and the next minute warns us to reconsider just what it is one's wishing for.



Movies are rated out of a possible 5
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