Sometimes it's best not to look back; you can't go home again.
After establishing himself in recent years as a pretty good comic actor, even a serious actor, in films like "High Fidelity," "The School of Rock," "Envy," "King Kong," "Nacho Libre," and "The Holiday," Jack Black decided to go back to his roots, so to speak, to the HBO series, "Tenacious D," that helped establish him as a star in the late '90's. I'd say after watching this new, 2006 film, he's better off where he is today.
Not that "The Pick of Destiny" is entirely awful. Fans of Jack Black, Kyle Gass, and the musical duo Tenacious D may find some joy here, and non-fans may find some of the duo's songs clever (if remarkably profane). It's just that beyond a few tunes, the doesn't add up to much more than a made-for-HBO affair, which may seem like short measure for a full-priced DVD.
The movie--cowritten and directed by Liam Lynch, whose work has been mainly in TV stuff--recounts the formation of the two-man rock band, with a greater emphasis on Jack Black's character (whose name in the movie is Jack Black or JB) than on Kyle Gass's character (whose name in the movie, not surprisingly, is Kyle Gass or KG).
Things start off with a short, preliminary cartoon that sets the tone by featuring intestinal gas and farts, then goes on to some incredibly foulmouthed (but humorous) song lyrics. We see young Jack stuck in an ultraconservative Missouri household that believes rock-and-roll music is the work of the Devil (a belief later confirmed in the film), with the father (ironically played by musician Meat Loaf Aday) tearing most of the rock posters off Jack's bedroom walls. But he leaves one, for Ronnie James Dio, the old rocker formerly of Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Dio), to whom young Jack prays for guidance. Wouldn't you know it, the picture comes to life and Dio tells Jack to sneak out, head for Hollywood, and work like hell.
When he leaves home, Jack looks about twelve years old; when he reaches Hollywood, Jack looks his age, about thirty-six. Remember, this is a comedy. There, Jack meets Kyle, another wannabe rock singer, and together these two losers decide to form a band and win an open-mic contest. But first they learn about the POD, "The Pick of Destiny," a mystical, supranatural guitar pick created by Satan and used by every great band in history. If only they could get their hands on it, they'd be instantly famous. The rest of film involves their quest to steal the guitar pick from the Rock-and-Roll History Museum in Sacramento, California, and use the pick to their advantage.
Along the way, the two leads meet a number of actors in colorful cameo roles, most of whom are funnier than they are. Among these cameos are the aforementioned Meat Loaf, plus John C. Reilly, Amy Poehler, and David Krumholtz, but the two standouts are Ben Stiller as the manager of a guitar store and Tim Robbins as a one-legged wacko. Their characters were the only ones who made me smile.
Apart from the cameos, the movie limps along from one satiric rock song to another, with only the music to carry it. Left to its own devices, the plot is tedious, slow, and unfunny. Nevertheless, the music has a kind of "Spinal Tap" or "Rocky Horror Picture Show" quality to it that can be amusing, if you don't mind the plethora of obscenities it contains. There's a brief parody of "A Clockwork Orange" that's cute, too, and a deft classical riff, but that is about the extent of the film's creativity, the rest of it filled with bathroom humor and foul language. Incidentally, the fellows name their band after birthmarks each of them has on their butt, Jack "Tenac" and Kyle "ious D." It's destiny, you see.
How much you like the film may depend on your tolerance for watching a couple of overweight, middle-aged men acting silly as struggling rock musicians with writer's block. It a one-note gag that goes on far too long.
The New Line video engineers appear to have transferred the movie to disc at a fairly average bit rate, resulting in some fairly average detailing and definition. The disc preserves most of the film's original 1.85.1 aspect ratio in an anamorphic picture that fills out a widescreen television, and that is some help. Still, colors can be a bit oversaturated and blurry while at the same time looking bright and somewhat cartoonish.
English may be the only language choice on the disc, but it comes in three flavors to suit all tastes: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, and DTS 6.1 ES. In DD 5.1 the audio engineers ensure a thunderous bass, a wide front-channel stereo spread, and an extensive use of the surrounds. They also manage a strong dynamic range and impact, along with reasonably good midrange clarity. However, since most of the audio comes in the form of loud, noisy rock music and bathroom sounds, I'm not sure the effort was worth the result.
Here's a switch: A DVD where the bonus items are better than the movie. Things begin with two feature commentaries, the first with stars Jack Black and Kyle Gass and the second with director Liam Lynch. I have to admit liking the one with the stars best because it was little more entertaining and irreverent. Next, we get about thirty minutes of deleted or extended scenes, including an introduction by the director, an alternate ending, and a series of outtakes. Not a bad deal.
After that are three featurettes: "The Making of Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny," twenty-three minutes; "In the Studio," twenty-one minutes; and "The Making of the Music Video," five minutes. You can already see that these extras are adding up to more playing time than the film itself. Then, there's the music video for the song "The Pick of Destiny," followed by a "Jump-to-a-Song" feature that allows one to go back and play any of a dozen tunes from the movie.
The extras conclude with fourteen scene selections; a theatrical and a teaser trailer for "The Pick of Destiny"; Sneak Peeks at half a dozen other New Line titles; English as the only spoken language; English and Spanish subtitles; and a colorful cardboard slipcover.
It doesn't bode well for a movie when the cameo appearances upstage the stars. "Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny" is an odd mixture of rock-and-roll parody and straight-out farce that says little that's new in the former department and little that's funny in the latter. One might be better off buying the CD album of music from the film, since that's the only part of the production that works reasonably well.