Rock Star – By Sean O’Connell

Have you ever worshipped a band? Members of the KISS Army might know what I’m talking about, but few others will. I’m not talking about buying all of the band’s albums, or requesting their songs on the radio, or even hanging a poster or two on your wall, because that’s not enough.I’m talking about pledging your undying love for a band. Emulating each member, not by copying their wardrobe but by mastering their on-stage body movements or distinguishable dance steps. I’m talking about drinking in each recorded note of every imported B-side, even if it’s part of the soundtrack for that crappy Freddie Prinze Jr. movie.

When you go to a party, regardless of whose house it’s in, you walk over to the stereo and slap in the tape of your favorite band for all to hear. In time, as delusional as it sounds, you might even consider yourself a distant member of said musical act. Have you ever worshipped a band that much? Because Chris Coles has, and “”Rock Star”” tells his extraordinary story.Pittsburgh-based Steel Dragons tribute band Blood Pollution has an ace up their sleeve. Front man Chris Coles (Mark Wahlberg), a mild-mannered copy machine technician, possess extraordinary pipes and an uncanny ability to replicate the vocal stylings of Dragons singer Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng). But Coles’ slavish devotion to Dragons contributes to his perfectionism, and his strict stage demands push his bandmates too far. Fed up, they unanimously vote to replace him with a rival band’s lead singer, sending Chris back to his dead-end day job. Thankfully, Chris isn’t out of the music business long. Professional groupies Nina and Samantha play a video tape of Blood Pollution’s last show for the members of Steel Dragon themselves, and they invite Chris to L.A. to audition to replace Beers, who has fallen out of favor with the band. Setting up one of the film’s finest scenes, Chris and his girlfriend/manager Emily (Jennifer Aniston) arrive at the mansion-based headquarters of Steel Dragons where Chris gets to meet his heroes and roll the dice on fulfilling his rock and roll dreams.Chris passes the initial test, but his trial by fire has just begun. Before long, the rigors of the job he thought he wanted take its toll on the admittedly-superficial life he led, and Chris realizes that the hours he wasted fantasizing about being someone else never gave him any time to establish his own personality. Can “”Rock Star”” actually be asking us to feel bad for the heavy metal hero who fills his days with enough pills, booze and groupies to gag Ozzy in his tracks? Initially, yes, but midway through, under the guiding hand of knowledgeable director Stephen Herek (who helmed similar fare in “”Mr. Holland’s Opus””), “”Rock Star”” begins to peel away the cliched elements of the touring saga and reach for genuine emotions. Of course, the film never strays too far. Touching mentoring speeches are shared backstage and on tour buses, but they’re delivered by bloated road managers (Timothy Spall) and haggard drummers (Jason Bonham) hooked up to dialysis machines.Herek knows exactly how this story ends, but he takes his time getting there. Instead of chopping up his scenes into unrecognizable pulp, Herek allows them build to refreshingly satisfactory climaxes. There’s also a clever sense of cyclical irony established as the film progresses that is unexpected but appreciated. When necessary, the director even reduces the film’s ballsy pop metal soundtrack to a whisper, allowing crucial bits of dialogue between the leads to be heard and savored. It’s a credit to John Stockwell’s able script, because the soundtrack does indeed grind, perfectly capturing everything beautiful and cheesy about hair metal and lending a sense of credibility and sarcasm. AC/DC, a band that also replaced their original singer with a sound-alike, is cranked on more than one occasion.The secret, though, is Wahlberg, who continues to draw on his versatility and range, shedding the albatross of his hip-hop background and establishing himself as a genuine leading man. In one scene, when he and Aniston’s Emily arrive at Steel Dragons’ mansion and gawk at the band’s assorted memorabilia, Wahlberg’s eyes are engulfed with glee, but he buckles it under a belt of composure, like a kid fidgeting at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning who can see the back tire of a shiny new bicycle from his vantage point. His raw enthusiasm and fanatical devotion make him the ultimate tour guide to this enthusiastic romp through a world that is becoming all too familiar to us after films like “”Almost Famous”” and “”This Is Spinal Tap”” but still has enough material to pack a concert hall to the rafters.Grade: B+By Sean O’ConnellSept. 7, 2001