Star Bound 

The highs and lows of Rock Star; going along with Two Can Play That Game.

For a movie as lazy-draggy as Rock Star, it has moments that are true heartbreakers.

That's because it taps into that thing that makes each and every one of us -- admit it! -- take a hairbrush, tilt a hip, and sing, "Freebird, yeah," or "'Cause I got high, la di dah," or, God forbid, "Oops, I did it again." Call it innate. It's about having millions of people love you and some detest you. It's about having your picture taken and your autograph sought. It's about lust and conspicuous consumption. It's about having it all. But it's not mere celebrity -- think about all those actors who want to sing (hello, Keanu). To be a rock star is to create something, then put it out there, then reap what you sow.

Rock Star is about a man too scared to create. Instead, he hollowly re-creates, and then, through dumb luck and a pair of big-haired hussies, this ordinary chucklehead lives his dream.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Chris Cole, a Pittsburgh office cog who still lives at home with his parents. But when night falls, Chris evolves into Bobby Beers, lead singer of a British metal group called Steel Dragon. Chris' tribute band, Blood Poison, have the moves, the looks, the sounds, everything down. And if they don't, tempers flare and fists fly -- among the members of the group. This turns to that, and Chris is kicked out of the band. He's sad, his guitarist says, that he's living the life of another person. It's time to do his own thing. Even Chris' beyond-devoted girlfriend Emily (Jennifer Aniston) suggests the same in the gentlest manner.

Then, the phone call. The guitarist from Steel Dragon wants Chris in L.A. the next day. It seems that the hallowed lead singer Bobby Beers is on the outs -- perhaps, worse yet for the band, he's also out of the closet. In to replace him are all those wannabes, including Chris. He nails the audition and gets the gig. He is the new lead singer of Steel Dragon, and without so much as a peep in front of the larger public, he changes from Chris to Izzy and becomes the rock star he's always dreamed of being. But among the percussions, there are repercussions. Chris realizes that even while living the good life he's still a cog.

The story of Rock Star is loosely based on what happened with the band Judas Priest in the early '90s: lead singer bumped; ordinary Joe replaces him. But the real story was too difficult to secure, given issues concerning song rights and cooperation with Judas Priest. Consequently, Rock Star goes for a sweeping representation of the life -- three-ways and Batmobiles -- wrapped in the bigger theme of a man who got his (good) and then got his (bad).

It works to a degree: the shocking lasciviousness, the excessive makeup, the fuzzy morals via a bandmate on dialysis, and the road manager who walks away from an ideal life, too afraid to be normal.

And then there's that defining moment. Chris, now Izzy, is posing for his first publicity shots with the band. As the other Steel Dragon members ooze disdain and menace, Chris can't help but smile smile smile. He is there. And then there's the flip side: the sense of awful wastefulness. It's summed up in a cameo by Rachel Hunter, model and ex-wife of Rod Stewart. She plays a band-member wife relegated to the "wife limo," while the men ride the tour bus and indulge in whatever they see fit. The women in the limo explain to Emily that such allowances are what make such relationships work. Each time the camera lands on Hunter, though, she registers a truly sad fatigue and embarrassment, as if the role hits too close to home.

Director Stephen Herek (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) takes all this material and presents it as "material," meaning that, except for those genuine moments -- Chris' uncontrollable smile, Hunter's grimace -- emotion, excitement come as canned as extra-strength hairspray. The audience is dragged rather than engaged, and sometimes attention may drift.

Rule number one in Two Can Play That Game: Each man and woman should have a chubby friend who can give it to them straight -- that is, take it to the gutter. Can we talk about laying pipe and smacking booty?

Two Can Play That Game stars Vivica A. Fox as Shanté, the Jag-driving superwoman with her own-bought property and a confidence that comes from being young and having curves. Shanté is the together one in her group of girlfriends. If a man's cheating, loitering, or all-around no-gooding, Shanté tells them to kick the dog to the curb. Then, Shanté's forced to take her own advice when she sees her man Keith (Morris Chestnut) wiggling on the dance floor after he told her he had to work late.

Hence the Ten Day Plan, Shanté's scheme to lure her man, hook him, maybe struggle a little, and then reel him in. Trouble is, Keith has Tony (Anthony Anderson) on his side. Tony is squeaky, large, and full of advice. For every move Shanté makes, Tony suggests a counter-move for Keith. It's an intricate, sometimes cruel game. The aim: to stay on top or suffer.

Yet, the draw of Two Can Play That Game isn't what it's about. The performances and the trash-talking are the strengths of this film. The girlfriends and the boyfriends mix it up and take it low. Anderson especially has a comic presence that is silly and endearing.

Two Can Play That Game is a trifle and goofy. But don't count it out as a date movie. At least you'll have something to talk about when it's over.



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