This is a parody played hilariously straight. The target of its mockery is so succinct and sharply pointed--the recent Oscar-winning musical biopics "Ray" and "Walk the Line"--that the film's true comedic genius may be lost on people who didn't really pay attention to those films or thought this would just be another "Superbad." The film's mimesis of its source materials is so spot-on, that it even follows their same cadence and nearly falls apart midway as it glosses over many points in history and aspects of the musician's life while covering every cliché possible from the temptations of life on the road with drugs and groupies to bouts in rehab and bitter divorces to long dry periods that suddenly make way for life-altering inspiration.
At the center of "Walk Hard" is John C. Reilly who sings and acts his heart out to hilarious effect. A former Oscar nominee for "Chicago", Reilly has since cut a niche for himself as the second banana to bigger comedy stars like Will Ferrell in "Talladega Nights" and for the first time gets a film to call his own. Tim Meadows is shockingly funny as the friend who ushers in Cox's decent into drug use (his overly accentuated but still deadpan line deliveries are priceless), while Jenna Fishcher is sprite and lovely as the June Carter cutie to Cox's Johnny Cash wannabee. Other SNL players including Kristin Wiig and Chris Parnell and Apatow alumni like Paul Rudd (as John Lennon!) and Jonah Hill pop in and out of the film amidst an onslaught of funny sight-gags and one-liners. Also in on the fun is a cavalcade of current music stars including the lead singer of the White Stipes as Elvis and Eddie Vedder as himself doing a nonsensical quasi-spiritual riff on Cox's legacy while presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award.
The heart of "Walk Hard" is in the music. If you were to not listen so closely, you might be fooled into thinking these were actual hit songs from their respective time periods. Of course, listening to the lyrics is part of the fun. The ridiculously silly double-entendres in Cox's duet with his honey-to-be Darlene are especially funny, while I personally found their spoof of a Bob Dylan song to be downright brilliant. Since the writers took the time to be so verbose and intricate with their nonsensical free-form versing, they allowed the bit to work on multiple levels as both an homage and a biting jab at Dylan's alleged lyrical genius.
Utimately "Walk Hard", in ways both monumentally stupid and unfathomably smart, proves to be almost too clever for its own good. It may have bombed in it's first-run at the box office, but I would imagine it will eventually find its audience. In one pivotal early scene Cox begs his wife to believe in him and his dreams of becoming a successful singer. She replies something to the effect of, "Oh, baby, I do. I just believe you're gonna fail." I couldn't have said it better myself, and it still has me laughing.