Film Reviews

One-Toke Wonder

The first few minutes of Tenacious D in ¨The Pick of Destiny¨ are something to behold: a four-minute rock opera cranked to 11. A doughy young boy with dirty-mop locks (Nacho Libre's Troy Gentile, once more playing li'l Jack Black) laments his tragic plight: He's stuck in Kickapoo with "a humble family, religious through and through," that just doesn't get his tasty jams.

The kid struts into the kitchen, an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder, and starts singing: "If you fuck with me, I shall fuck you too." His old man (Meat Loaf, nice) leaps from the table to take the boy over bended knee for a good beltin'. The boy, weeping and singing with Jack Black's voice, prays to his poster of Ronnie James Dio. The Ozzy Osbourne sub sings back, naturally, demanding the child embrace his inner demons and run away from his nowhere town to form "the world's most awesome band." Guitar in tow, the boy leaps from his window and escapes into the night; where he'll land, only Dio knows.

Oh, if only the movie had the balls to keep up its rock-opera façade—and you'd think a movie possessing a plot line that hinges upon Jack Black's ability to do a single "cock push-up" would nut up. What's the worst that would have happened? It turns into Rocky Horror Picture Show? There are worse sins, Black's ho-hum turn in King Kong among them. But, alas, after the thundering opening credits that look to have been fashioned by someone burned out on years of Dungeons & Dragons, the movie straightens up and flattens out. It winds up as just another sketch extended past the point of no return; at five minutes it's a gas, but at 85 minutes it's just a smell you can't get rid of.

That we're even discussing a Tenacious D movie more than a decade after Black and Kyle Gass formed their heavy-metal homage/parody/etc. suggests they're too late to their own party; already there have been myriad Saturday Night Live and Mr. Show appearances, the short-lived HBO series and the 2001 album, not to mention Black's enrolling in School of Rock to capitalize on his brief stint as, well, more-or-less Jack Black in High Fidelity, which exploited Black's Tenacious D persona, Jables, in the first place. This reach-around all seems more than a bit too familiar—utterly exhausted and totally spent is a bit more like it. By the time it gets to the protracted car chase, you'll wonder if Gass and Black are on a mission from God or Satan—who, d'oh, finally shows in the form of Foo Fighter Dave Grohl.

Perhaps it's unfair to see or write about Tenacious D in a sober state; after all, the funniest gag in the movie precedes it, during an animated sequence that parodies the THX intro. "The audience is baking," claim cartoon caricatures of Black and Gass promoting their movie as having been shot in "THC." So maybe it's wise to consider viewing the movie whilst soaked in bong water, which, granted, sets the bar pretty low, but when you're trying to crawl under it rather than hurdle over it, well, it's still quite the challenge. Then again, Half-Baked is high-larious when you're stoned.

The plot, such as it is, recounts Black and Gass' first meeting and the origins of the name Tenacious D; has something to do with an "ass mark," though it's best to leave well enough alone at this point. In short, Gass (a straight man trying way too hard to keep up with Black) and Black (who's just trying way too hard) try to write the greatest song in the world, can't, realize you need the devil's knocked-out tooth to accomplish such a feat and go looking for it at a rock-and-roll museum. Along the way they encounter Ben Stiller as a Guitar Center salesman who looks the way ashtrays smell, Tim Robbins as a German missing a leg ("Man, I miss that sweet-ass leg"), John C. Reilly as Bigfoot (during a 'shroom sequence; not yours, alas) and Amy Poehler as a waitress with a black eye.

Directed by Liam Lynch, responsible for the novelty single "United States of Whatever" and the time-wasting musical sequences in Sarah Silverman's concert doc Jesus Is Magic, Tenacious D is utterly harmless and totally pointless. Black and Gass have been at this so long their dirty little joke has all the punch of a Catskills routine. They're straining for the laughs now, to the point where Black now looks more like Jack Nicholson in Batman, his eyebrows arched as though they were designed by Frank Gehry—which is kind of ironic, since this movie desperately needs a good joker more than another toker.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky