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Artist formerly known as Marky Mark stars as off-key Rock Star

Rumor has it that Rock Star, the far from star-studded flick with Mark Wahlberg, has been in the can for many, many months. It's anyone's guess as to the actual reasons for the studio's tentative push for the film's release. But after seeing Rock Star, it's hard not to imagine studio heads wringing their hands, planning to bury the film near the end of the summer or hoping for overflow business from Wahlberg's far-from-perfect but far superior film, Planet of the Apes. Timing Rock Star after Apes makes sense, because Rock Star merely apes the attractions of the rock world.

Rock Star is the story of Chris Cole (Wahlberg), an obsessive fan of fictional mid-'80s British metal band Steel Dragon, who fronts a Pittsburgh-based tribute band called Blood Pollution. But when Wahlberg's character, an office supply salesman, is picked from obscurity, renamed "Izzy" and placed at the lead of Steel Dragon (played by real rockers from Dokken, the Verve Pipe, Ozzy Osbourne's band and Led Zeppelin's seed), the film plays more like a tribute to rock star tributes.

The film's Deep Thought is forecast early, just like its other predictable plot turns. If Steel Dragon can make a diamond from Cole, then anybody can achieve their dream, whether it's to be a metal god or start Starbucks. Too bad director Stephen Herek is less suited to capturing dreams of rock stardom than dreaming of directing a VH1 "Behind The Music" special. Even with Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Herek managed to do a better job of making '80s rock rock.

You'd think Rock Star would be a great role for Wahlberg, who has made a career playing ordinary characters tapped for their unusual abilities, and who then rise above them. He's already rocked cock in Boogie Nights, so cock rock shouldn't be too much of a stretch. And he does a passable job, but he wasn't given a passable script.

Some of the little details are dead-on for the period — the Motley Crue-like fishnet arm stockings worn by the bands' bassists — while others, like the soundtrack choice of Bon Jovi and post-makeup KISS songs, are utterly confounding. After all, the original inspiration for the film (before the band distanced themselves from the fiasco) was the early '90s replacement of Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford with Tim "Ripper" Owens, the singer of a Judas Priest tribute band.

But maybe it's that willingness to walk the center line that results in the one thing Rock Star and rock stars have in common: whoring. Rock Star whores itself, trying to satisfy everyone from contemporary mulletheads to reformed hair metal fans on a date. Viewers leave wondering if Rock Star was a light-hearted drama or a dramatic comedy, because it wasn't that funny and nothing particularly dramatic happened.

Anybody who has seen a special on (or God knows how, lived through) the Sunset Strip scene of '80s L.A. knows how crazy things got. But Rock Star keeps that aspect of stardom behind closed doors, instead concentrating on the underdeveloped relationship between Cole and his long-suffering girlfriend played by Jennifer Aniston, who, true to date-movie form, leaves him alone to figure out his priorities. Can you guess what they'd be? If you said "groupies," you'd be realistic, but not right.

And then suddenly Cole has his epiphany (despite the fact that "epiphany" is two syllables above this film's intelligence level). While a drunken moment with Steel Dragon's tour manager leads to a story of life-affirming decisions reached while in the loo, Cole realizes that the Wise British Roadie and his public toilet story are right. Cole's got to tell Steel Dragon and all his adoring fans to piss off so he can sell the leather pants, buy some granny sweaters, move to Seattle, drink decaf and play in a coffee house band to win back the one thing that completes him: his woman.

And that's when I had an epiphany. The last hour and 40 minutes of Rock Star had been leading up to a second-rate Cameron Crowe Moment. Rock Star is not just the story of one kid's love for some band. It's some sort of bizarro prequel to Singles' grungy era of self-discovery. The only way to have made the film more ridiculously cliched would have been to have ended it with Cole playing in a Nirvana cover band.

On the big screen, Rock Star plays with little impact. But considering how perilously the timid Rock Star balances between R and PG-13, censors could easily cut a small amount of objectionable material to make a somewhat sterile VH1 flick perfect to rock a lazy Sunday afternoon.??