Rainn Wilson trades one Office job for another as Robert “Fish” Fishman an over-the-hill 41 year-old insurance company worker who came right to the edge of eternal rock fame as the drummer of a struggling ‘80s band Vesuvius--until the other members kicked him out in order to get a record deal. Twenty years later the band has continued on to great success while Fish only manages to get fired from his latest job forcing him to move in with his sister (Jane Lynch) and family--including his nephew the nerdy Matt (Josh Gad) who happens to be a member of his own band A.D.D. Turns out the group needs a drummer and asks the long-in-the-tooth Uncle Robert to join them which he does reluctantly. Soon he is putting a soulful metal spin on their forgettable sound. The other members--Amelia (Emma Stone) and Curtis (Teddy Geiger)--aren’t too thrilled especially when he eventually makes a play for Curtis’ mom (Christina Applegate). But when he is caught rehearsing with the band in the nude (via a four-way webcam) the video finds itself on You Tube where A.D.D. suddenly becomes an exploitable phenom with the “naked drummer” as a draw. The inevitable tour leads to a climactic concert where revenge could be sweet when they share the bill with none other than--drumroll please--Vesuvius. Since Jack Black was apparently otherwise engaged Wilson gets a lucky break and turns what could be an annoying one-dimensional boob into a guy we can root for. He’s never less than believable as this aging buffoon who gets a second chance at the dream he always knew he deserved but blew 20 years earlier. Wilson playing a role not too dissimilar from his weekly gig as Dwight Schrute on The Office nicely balances the broad comedic requirements of the role with genuine pathos and a pretty good musical talent that makes the second coming of this 40-ish rock star oddly credible. It helps that he’s surrounded by an appealing cast of younger actors who make up the rest of the band. Stone (Superbad The House Bunny) is particularly appealing and completely winning. Geiger is the good-looking tortured lead singer while Gad makes us feel all the growing pains. Applegate is well cast but underused as Curtis’ mom and there are some nice--if too brief--moments from Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin and the always hilarious Jane Lynch as Matt’s parents. Turning up for an ironic cameo is the original ousted drummer from The Beatles Pete Best (although the filmmakers swear this is not his story). Vesuvius is made up of comedy vets Fred Armisen Bradley Cooper and Will Arnett. but they are no Spinal Tap. Director Peter Cattaneo won universal praise and an Oscar nomination for his sleeper comedy hit The Full Monty and he’s probably got sleeper on his hand as he treads similar ground with the rags to riches scenario. He expertly displays how show business success can still come at a late age but not TOO late. Cattaneo wisely focuses on the humanistic qualities of the story blending some nice character work with the broader aspects of this School of Rock-style outing. It all could have gone south very quickly but the director keeps his cast in check and makes the story one that doesn’t ever run out of gas. This is the rare flick that both teens AND their parents will find riotously entertaining for wildly different reasons.
Tucked away between shiny modern skyscrapers quirky old-fashioned Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is a toy store literally like no other. Step inside and a sock monkey might give you a hug--or a fire engine might appear out of nowhere. That's because the store is imbued with the enthusiasm and magical childlike wonder of its owner: frizzy-haired 243-year-old dynamo Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman). When Magorium decides it's time to move on his designated heir self-doubting store manager Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman) isn't the only one who objects. The store itself throws a fit sulking and brooding and hurling toys at unwitting customers. It's up to Mahoney--with the help of stuffy accountant Henry "Mutant" Weston (Jason Bateman) and eager young store clerk Eric (Zach Mills)--to discover the best way to live up to Magorium's legacy. The movie's most pleasant surprise is Hoffman's charming performance. He could have followed in Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp's footsteps and made Magorium a fey Willy Wonka-like sprite. Instead Magorium is an original a mile-a-minute chatterbox who uses big words takes delight in the extraordinary and never stops smiling at life. And the calm gentle demeanor he brings to Magorium's farewell scenes with Mahoney will make a potentially tough plot twist a lot easier on kids. Speaking of Mahoney Portman is at her best in the moments that call for wry humor and Puck-ish mischief; the more earnest the script asks her to be the less interesting her character gets. Bateman is underused as the straight man (his lone lapse into silliness is a high point in the movie) but Mills is wholly endearing as wiser-than-his years Eric. With so much going for it why isn't Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium more magical? It's hard to say; perhaps it's something to do with the fact that the characters seem to talk about magic more than they actually interact with it. Or that despite all of said magic Mr. Magorium and his store never really do anything that you wouldn't expect of an eccentric bicentarian living in the ultimate funhouse. Writer/director Zach Helm gives viewers plenty to ooh and aah at (the set design is wonderful) but his story is never quite unusual or unexpected enough to transcend "cute" and "sweet" and reach "classic." All of that said with Hoffman in fine form and so many fabulous toys bouncing around the screen kids are likely to be delighted (and clamoring to add to their Christmas lists...)