At first, Walk Hard might seem no more impressive than the latest installment from the Scary Movie/Date Movie/Epic Movie team. But as this parody of films like Ray and Walk the Line gains momentum, the presence of producer/writer Judd Apatow and his infamous flair for non-sequitur humor begin to shine. The movie nails all the predictable jokes about the musical phenom who succumbs to the deadly pleasures of rock & roll hedonism in pretty obvious terms (though in fairness, it really wouldn't be the same without our hero Dewey, played by the teddy-bear-looking John C. Reilly, pulling a sink out of the wall in a fit of rage every time his life falls apart). But within the first half-hour, the predictable jabs at the clichés of the rock-star biopic are joined by far more absurd, over-the-top antics, including but not limited to a fair amount of male nudity, which is almost always funny anyway.
The ways that Walk Hard pokes fun at all the obligatory elements of the musical biopic also tend to get smarter and more clever as the film moves along. Dewey's brief period of performing as a highly political folk troubadour in the style of Bob Dylan (his particular cause being the plight of midgets) features a Dylanesque original song that's so spot-on, it could probably pass for Dylan on the radio if not for the only slightly too random, supposedly metaphorical lyrics ("...the skinny scanty sylph trashed the apothecary diplomat / inside the three-eyed monkey within inches of his toaster-oven life..."). This speaks to another of the film's strengths: the original music. All of the songs that Dewey sings over the course of his epic, 50-year career were written for the film (with the exception of a truly impressive disco cover of David Bowie's "Starman"), and every single one sounds like the real thing. Aside from the silly lyrics, the tunes each make fantastic, earnest examples of whatever musical style they were written to represent, complete with catchy hooks and toe-tapping rhythms (with the possible exception of Dewey's PCP-induced, fully orchestrated, tribal-instrument-heavy Brian Wilson-esque magnum opus, which we only ever hear a few bars from anyway).
Another winning aspect of Walk Hard (depending on your perspective) is its self-awareness -- so enter at your own peril if you don't enjoy the Anchorman school of humor, because this is a parody that mocks itself. For example, when Dewey undertakes his mandatory period of studying transcendental meditation with the Beatles, the joke that the whole scene revolves around is the casting. The Fab Four are all played by familiar faces in the Apatow clique who just happen to have not shown up in the movie yet (and who look nothing like the actual men they're playing, especially Jack Black as Paul McCartney), so, of course, they spend the whole scene addressing each other with lines like "What do you think, George Harrison of the Beatles?" This comes shortly after a scene in which Dewey notes that times are turbulent and his wife (played by Jenna Fischer in her usual impossible combination of hotness and hilarity) replies, "Yes, the '60s are an important and exciting time!" It's not exactly high-brow fare, and it's really more of a tribute than a biting satire, but the movie does right by its premise as a goofball send-up to pull no punches on even the silliest joke. It may earn more chuckles than belly laughs, but it's altogether entertaining from beginning to end, even if you've never seen the source material.