What! Another film about a mediocre rock & roll band? Yes, and it's quite a bit better than last year's overhyped and underwritten "Almost Famous." For one thing, it's about the band and not a 15-year-old journalist covering it. For another, the music written for this film's band is much closer to the real thing. And third, this one has a real person at the center of the film - a heavy-metal enthusiast named Chris Cole (played with a nice blend of innocence and smarts by Mark Wahlberg).
Chris, an office-machine repairman in Pittsburgh who still lives with his parents, fronts a tribute band to the supposedly famous Steel Dragon, an English group that's sweeping the charts in 1980s America. He knows every bit of trivia, down to the color of the lead singer's lapels when they were on tour in 1975, and he loves his girlfriend Emily (Jennifer Aniston), who doubles as his manager for the few gigs the band gets.
And then - and it's based on a true story - one day he gets a call from the band he reveres. They've seen a tape he made and are replacing their lead singer - his idol -- and they want him to audition. Which he does, and in the truth-stranger-than-fiction genre he's selected. At this point the plot essentially disappears, as we and Emily follow the band from concert to orgy to drugged-out living, until - but you've already guessed - Emily decides to cut out and follow her dream to open a coffee shop in Seattle.
Will Chris wise up? Will he leave the band to do his own music? Will he and Emily reconnect? Is this a Warner Bros. film? It's easy to make fun of this kind of thing, but in fact the film is well made (written by John Stockwell with some unexpectedly good lines and scenes), and directed by Stephen Herek with panache and wit.
Wahlberg, who as an actor is wildly uneven from film to film, is at his best here, showing both believable stage-performance chops and an honest off-stage persona. Aniston, in an underwritten role - her character has no life other than to follow Chris around - gives a thoughtful performance, that hints of a real human being inside the script's shell. But the best actor of all is Tiimothy Spall as Mats, the band's road manager. In a few key scenes this aging, bored but masterly manipulater reveals his smarts, his arrogance, and the underlying sadness of a life without love. A wonderful performance.