Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Cinema File #230: "Rock Jocks" Review

I'm as big a Kevin Smith fan as anyone. Watching Clerks for the first time and seeing an auteur able to produce a film purely on the strength of a great script, without the kind of budget that at the time made filmmaking seem prohibitively expensive. was a revelation to me as an aspiring filmmaker. Years later, after fostering my love of cinema, Smith would impact me yet again with his Smodcast network, inspiring me to start my own podcast, which in turn inspired this very blog you're reading right now. I owe a lot to the guy, which is why for all its charms and even the tacit approval of Smith on a recent episode of Smodcast, I can't get behind the new film Rock Jocks, a movie so derivative of this beloved director's debut film that it skates right past homage into shameless rip off in the first five minutes.

Rock Jocks is the story of a group of slacker government employees who work the night shift at a secret underground facility guiding orbital satellite lasers to destroy asteroids that are constantly hurtling towards the Earth. Now, judging by that synopsis, you might wonder just how I can accuse this movie of ripping off a film centered around a typical day at a convenience store, apart from the word "slacker" anyway. Don't let the sci-fi setting fool you, pretty much the only difference between this movie and Clerks is that this time, the easy dead end job the main characters don't care about is actually something relatively important, which by the end isn't nearly enough of a twist to let me forgive its lack of originality.

The structure is basically the same, one night on the job with bored and cynical twenty somethings obsessed with the minutiae of pop-culture, with Lord of the Rings references mostly replacing the Star Wars stuff, which is notably strange given the setting. The cast of characters is slightly larger, but the scope of personalities is still the same, just split up between multiple people. The "Dante" of the group is made up of the male and female leads, a guy who might as well be screaming "I'm not supposed to be here today" in every scene, and geektastic MPDG Felicia Day as the only one with any sense of professionalism. The "Randal" is made up of a brash, fast talking jerk and a lazy foul mouthed Indian guy, with the only somewhat original character being an unassuming nerdy new recruit. Then again, he's enough like Elias from Clerks 2 that I can't go so far as to give them credit for doing something different.

And if you don't believe me yet, wait until you meet the two security guards, the Jay and Silent Bob of the movie, one of whom is actually played by Jason Mewes himself. These two are the ones who observe the action and get cut to every so often to provide some quick pithy non-sequitur humor, ultimately serving very little point to the story. We even get a mute character thought to never speak, only to find them sweep in at just the right moment with a surprisingly profound word of wisdom, here an alien played by the always affable Doug Jones under heavy make-up. That the silent character is not one of the two comic relief cut away guys is not enough to convince me that this wasn't just cribbed entirely from a now 20 year old script. Some of the smaller similarities are so blatant that I almost want to believe it was intentional, but its obviously not a satire or parody, so I can only think its an homage gone wrong.

And the real shame of it is, if it had just tried a little bit harder to be different, Rock Jocks would have been a really good movie. It's charming and the characters are all fun for the most part, and the one scene that is something new, where the stakes of what should be their high stakes job finally come into focus in the third act, is a genuinely fun and uplifting moment. If only the rest of the movie could have been more like it, and less like a movie I've already seen. Even Quentin Tarantino, the master of walking that thin line between homage and rip-off, always infuses his movies with a style all his own. Rock Jocks simply doesn't, and whatever good could come of it is sapped away because of the absence of anything unique. Its not terrible by any means, and even an imitation of Clerks is still fun in so far as it captures the energy of a still great movie, but I'd just as soon watch the original before wasting my time with this again.

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