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Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (2006) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 22 November 2006
If you’ve harbored a secret desire to see Jack Black’s unclad butt, the long wait is over, as his tush is on display in “Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny.” This is goofy fantasy fiction on how he and Kyle Gass came to form the two-man band Tenacious D. Fans of D will already be lining up to see this movie hours, maybe days, before it opens, and they will probably love it. However, it’s likely to be more successful on video, partly because this will allow D fans to get stoked while watching—and the movie is clearly suggesting that’s a good idea.

It’s something like The Blues Brothers meet Beavis and Butt-Head with Bill and Ted hovering in the background. The plot, such as it is, takes a while to get going, but it’s never taken very seriously, and at the end, veers off in the unlikely direction of Disney’s “Dumbo.” There’s a magic mushroom hallucination partway through that also seems to be a nod to Disney.

The movie opens in Kickapoo, Kansas, when young JB (Troy Gentile doing a perfect impression of Jack Black) is thundered at by his conservative father (a perfectly-cast Meat Loaf) over the boy’s love of heavy metal and other rock. Inspired by the one poster his father didn’t rip off the wall, JB leaves Kansas and heads for Hollywood. Before arriving in California, though, he hits every other Hollywood in the U.S.

By the time he gets to the beaches of Venice, JB has become Jack Black, eager young rock disciple. When he happens upon KG (Kyle Gass), a fat guitarist playing classical music with a rock beat, JB flips out, but KG gives him the brushoff. After some (oddly) Clockwork Orange-inspired thugs beat up JB, KG invites him to live in his “futuristic” apartment—just a standard, seedy LA apartment, and offers to educate him in the ways of proper rock behavior and performance style.

Actually, he’s hoping to get JB’s help in paying the rent; KG is subsidized by his parents, but needs more money, mostly to keep him in dope. He looks like he gets enough food. At one point, JB accidentally rips off KG’s wig, revealing him in all his everyday glory. Few people on the planet could look less like a rock musician than the now-revealed KG: he’s bald on top and fat, looking more like a grocer than a rock star. But he does play rock furiously—on an acoustic guitar, as he can’t afford electric.

Finally, KG agrees to let JB join his group—increasing the number to two. JB declares the group must be called Tenac, as a birthmark on his ass looks like that. But what ho, KG has a birthmark on his ass, too: Ious D. Put them together, and indeed the two butts are lined up, and it spells Tenacious D.
They try out at an open mic night at a local club, but blow it badly, even though Black’s furious grimaces and all-out energetic style impressed at least me. They eventually realize that great rock stars all used the same guitar pick. When they try to buy one at a guitar store, a clerk (Ben Stiller, also one of the executive producers) takes them aside to tell them the legend of The Pick of Destiny. It involves a medieval monk, a guy who happens to be there, and Satan himself: the pick is made from one of his lost teeth, and he has to remain in Hell until he’s made whole again. Like the Maltese Falcon, the POD passed from hand to hand down through the centuries.

And, the frizzy-haired clerk says, it’s now in the Museum of Rock History, which seems to be near Sacramento. Now JB and KG have a Quest (segments are identified by cards resembling a Tarot deck) and borrowing their one fan’s car, they set out upon it. Along the way, they meet a grimy, mysterious stranger (Tim Robbins, another of the executive producers) and temporarily break up the band.

Tenacious D is built on energy, funny lyrics and a driving guitar style; they’re the self-proclaimed Greatest Band in History, which of course is part of the joke. They’ve appeared on MTV a lot, even had a short-lived series; there’s also a DVD. Black and Gass initially met in Robbins’ acting group, the Actor’s Gang and of course, Black has had a busy movie career ever since his scene-stealing bit in “High Fidelity.” Gass has another group, Trainwreck, and a busy acting career of his own, but with less impact than Black.

“The Pick of Destiny” gives evidence of having been initially completed several years ago; the presskit refers to some 2005 movies as being in the future, the IMDb lists some actors who don’t seem to be in the finished film (such as David Krumholz) and omits some who do appear (such as Dave Grohl, as a very impressive Satan).

It’s kind of a slap-dash movie, not very well directed, but often cranking up a lot of energy and generally providing a fair number of laughs, even for those who aren’t already fans of Tenacious D. However, just what their act may really be like isn’t very clear, though their energy and funny lyrics are. Part of their appeal is, of course, Black’s John Belushi-like intensity and grimaces paired with the utterly commonplace look of Kyle Gass.

The movie tries all kinds of things. During their temporary breakup, Black eats a whole heck of a lot of hallucinogenic mushrooms, sees a brightly-colored, partly-animated landscape and meets Sasquatch, who takes him for a flight, during which Black also turns into a Sasquatch, then back into himself. This sequence has no connection with anything else in the movie other than Black’s occasional but thwarted desire to watch a TV show about Sasquatch. There’s a car chase in downtown Los Angeles near the climax which is just as disconnected from the rest of the movie, but is fun to watch and listen to.

The screenplay is by Black, Gass and director Liam Lynch, who’s directed Tenacious D before, but, pretty clearly, never a movie that actually has to have a plot. His handling of actors is also uncertain. Black’s a movie veteran, but in his first scene in Venice, he’s clearly self-conscious—which he’s never been before. Nobody, director or actors, seems to know quite what to do with Lee (JR Reed), their number one (and only) fan. But Reed is evidently a pal, and they just wanted him in the movie.

Those who have been longing for a Tenacious D movie are likely to embrace the movie, and nothing I say here will discourage them, nor is it intended to: if you like them, well, here’s their movie. It’s exuberantly foul-mouthed, especially in the song lyrics. Some of the guest stars, especially Stiller and Robbins, are clearly having a great time; so is the unidentified guy playing Sasquatch. Some elements seem tossed in just because someone wanted it there, but that’s okay. It does seem a little unlikely that even New Line would finance this strangeness, but here it is.

The movie meanders, it overdoes some things, underdoes others; it looks like a lot of reshooting and editing took place; it’s not really a musical, though it starts like a rock opera with all of Meat Loaf’s dialogue sung, thunderously. But it has a kind of exuberant innocence that’s very likeable. You may not enjoy all of it, you may not convert to Tenacious D fandom, but you’re likely to find big bits and pieces to like.

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