There’s a certain kind of lamely domesticated, corporate, lit-like-a-floor-wax-commercial rock & roll comedy that makes you feel faintly embarrassed for the people who made it. I still recall wincing through 1994’s Airheads (remember Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler — billed third! — in their hair-metal wigs?), and The Rocker, with Rainn Wilson as a metal drummer from the ’80s who just missed out on stardom, is a similar oil slick of ”rebellious” sitcom attitude.
The only brazen thing about the film is how shamelessly it rips off School of Rock, recycling its flaky-educator loser-of-the-gods premise, only this time in high school. Wilson’s ”Fish” Fishman, who got tossed out of his band in 1986 (just before they made it big), is now an anonymous never-was who agrees to drum in his teenage nephew’s band; they’re a brainy crew of freaks and geeks, and he sets about teaching them the Spirit of Rock & Roll. Jack Black made School of Rock great because he was an authentic embodiment of that spirit and a walking air-guitar doofus. But Rainn Wilson has no wild-child demons, no inner rock star; he’s a guy who belongs in an office cubicle. (He’s like the rogue son of Garrison Keillor.) The fifth or sixth time you hear him wrap his all-too-sane and innocuous delivery around a line like ”I’m going to be responsible, all right — for partying till my nuts catch fire!” you want to shout: Enough already! Let his nuts catch fire! Maybe then he’ll surprise us. C-