A sporadically entertaining rock opera.
Long before he starred in films like School of Rock and Nacho Libre, Jack Black was a member of Tenacious D, L.A.’s legendary heavy metal parody band. Founded over ten years ago by Black and buddy Kyle Gass, Tenacious D developed a loyal following, selling out shows throughout the country. And though they’ve produced numerous albums and music videos, appeared in several sketch comedy shows and even had their own short-lived HBO series, the duo never received a shot at the big screen. Until now.
I desperately wanted to love Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny. I mean, how can you deride a comedy that features cameos from Tim Robbins, John C. Reilly, Meat Loaf and Ronnie James Dio? Sadly, I had to settle for merely liking the film – or at least parts of it.
Perhaps the bar is set too high by the film’s epic opening sequence, in which a young Jack Black heeds the call of the mighty Dio and leaves his oppressive family for the welcoming arms of Hollywood. It’s a work of operatic genius that pays tribute to heavy metal’s fist-pumping ethos. It’s also the funniest scene in the film.
From there, the plot leaps forward to present day. Wandering the boardwalk along Venice beach, Black (now fully grown) stumbles upon self-styled virtuoso Kyle Gass, who reluctantly agrees to take Black on as his heavy metal pupil. Soon they decide to join forces, and the band Tenacious D is born.
When their first attempts to write a hit song fall woefully short, they turn to more sinister sources for inspiration. A burnout music store clerk (Ben Stiller in yet another wacky cameo) tells them of a magical guitar pick, used by all great guitarists in the recording of their seminal rock albums. Forged from the lost tooth of Satan himself, the pick holds the key to heavy metal greatness.
The rest of the film chronicles their search for a magical guitar pick and the rock stardom they so richly deserve.
The movie’s paper-thin plot serves mainly as a means to move from sketch to sketch, each of which is accompanied by a Tenacious D song. (The soundtrack features a mix of new and old material – it’s by far the best aspect of the film.) That would be perfectly fine, if the sketches were all funny. Unfortunately, the laughs are all too sporadic, leaving the audience too much time to contemplate the movie’s many flaws.
It does end on a high note, however, with a closing sequence in which the boys battle with the devil himself (played by Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl).
Oddly enough, Gass and Black don’t possess the chemistry one would expect from two guys who’ve been performing together for over a decade. As the straight man (sort of), Gass simply can’t keep up with Black, whose acting chops are far superior.
Could the sun be setting on Tenacious D? Watching this film, I couldn’t help but think about how much funnier it might have been if it came out five years ago, when most of the world had not yet been introduced to Jack Black’s manic shtick. Unfortunately, too much of this film feels like well-trodden territory.