The purposefully pretentious rock duo Tenacious D favors epic battles—of the bands, for instance, or of good and evil—so here's another: the band's new feature-film musical comedy Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny versus audience expectations. Will the audience be "rocked" by the band's wily charms or let down by a slack story that repeats too many decade-old jokes? Stoked or bummed?
Stoked: the D has a movie! Since 1994, Kyle Gass (a.k.a. KG; a.k.a. Cage) and Jack Black (a.k.a. JB; a.k.a. Jables) have put over on audiences a hilariously underwrought acoustic-metal act that blisters with Gass' lead-guitar skills and Black's egomaniacal energy on lead vocals. Concerts, an album, and a limited TV series established the band's self-styled legendary status.
Bummed: the D has been here and done this. As written by Black, Gass, and director Liam Lynch, the movie recycles the TV series extensively, including a finale that re-mounts the song "Tribute," about Satan (Dave Grohl, as in the video) facing off against the D. (Here's a head-scratcher: the scene is a reshoot to provide the film with a bigger, better ending. One wonders what was there before.) Besides, Black's School of Rock already definitively trod much of this rock-worship, rock-training territory.
Stoked: did I mention the D has a movie? It opens with an animated sequence by John Kricfalusi, then blasts into full rock-opera mode to depict the childhood origin-story of JB. In Kickapoo, Missouri, rebellious young JB takes inspiration from a Ronnie James Dio poster come to life, then escapes from his right-wing Christian dad (Meat Loaf). In Hollywood, Black finds Gass performing on the street, and destiny begins to take its course as KG grudgingly agrees to begin training JB ("tomorrow—at the crack of noon"). Power slides, Guitar Center, gigging...it's the best movie in the world!
Bummed: The Pick of Destiny loses momentum after these opening scenes. When the band goes off in search of the fabled Pick and its guarantee of a rock-god fate, the film becomes like a tire with a slow leak, flattening as it goes along. Lynch directed the "Tribute" video and other shorts, but his only pervious feature is the concert-sketch film Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic; his style is loose, rough around the edges, and comedically fallible.
Stoked: dude, there's a lot of funny shit here. The D has always been defiantly silly and gleefully profane, and The Pick of Destiny is no exception. There's plenty of cock talk (you'll learn a very special exercise), a Clockwork Orange spoof, and amusing appearances by D regulars Jason Reed (as unaccountably enthusiastic fan Lee) and Paul F. Tompkins (as a dive-bar's open mic emcee). The D proves its cred by gathering the largest group of cameo players this side of a Muppet movie, including executive producer Ben Stiller as the expert on the Pick, Oscar nominee John C. Reilly as the Sasquatch, and Oscar winner Tim Robbins as a Pythonesque, one-legged Russian who wails, "I miss that sweet-ass leg of mine!" (Luckily, Oscars cannot be revoked.)
Bummed: Too many jokes (and, well, the story) thud to earth. The drug humor isn't out of place, but it's far from inventive, and the fart jokes are of a particularly unacceptable vintage. The plot is so thin as to necessitate a wan Blues Brothers-style car chase. In short, The Pick of Destiny ain't Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
Decision: Robbins' appearance reminded me of another cameo-filled rock musical built around a comedy duo—Tapeheads, with Robbins and John Cusack. It's the sort of not-very-good movie that somehow can't be denied, what with Robbins and Cusack circa 1985 and cameos by Courtney Love, Jello Biafra, Doug McClure and Connie Stevens, Sam Moore, Junior Walker, Don Cornelius, and Bobcat Goldthwait, among others. Everyone knows rock is about rebellion, so fuck it: call me stoked.