The first thing you notice about “Rock Slyde” is that Tom Bergeron is the funniest guy in the movie. At first you marvel at how his brief role as a wide-eyed nincompoop earns more giggles than anything else, and isn’t that neat how he out-funnys his costars. But then you think, wait a sec, is it really a good thing that a game show host gets more chuckles just by making a goofy face than all the veteran comic actors clogging up the screen? And then you realize, hey, his main competition is Andy Dick, so we’re probably grading on a curve.
“Rock Slyde” is from rookie writer/director Chris Dowling, whose personal backstory contains secrets far more interesting than his film itself. IMDB lists an indie short and a brief acting stint on “Days of Our Lives” (and little else) in his past, but neither can explain how he rounded up so many cameos for his feature debut. Jason Alexander, Eric Roberts, Lea Thompson, Brian Bosworth, Jerry Cantrell, and the aforementioned “Dancing with the Stars” host all make brief appearances here, often in oddball situations (Roberts plays an irritated delivery guy; Bosworth is a singing pirate; Bergeron owns a hamburger joint) that suggest they’re all doing it as a lark – and, likely, doing a favor for a struggling filmmaker. How does Dowling know these people, and why would they agree to chip in for a half-day’s work (likely without reading the script beyond their half-page of throwaway lines)?
It’s the sort of question you ask when you’re staring slack jawed at the screen, waiting for a giggle to arrive. Dowling’s script is a mishmash of too-obvious “our hero is sooooo dumb” jokes, outdated “ain’t the gays silly?” yuks, and flat “livin’ in L.A. is wacky!” set-ups, all tied together under the guise of a private eye spoof that brings nothing new (and plenty old) to the parody table.
The film stars Patrick Warburton as Rock Slyde, P.I., and before you ask, yes, he plays exactly the same beefy dimwit he plays in every other movie. We’ve long since reached the point where casting Patrick Warburton as a lummox has become the cheap way out, a typecasting shortcut on par with asking Betty White to play the foul-mouthed granny. Sure, turning dim-bulbery into a joke remains Warburton’s forte – and his years working with Seth MacFarlane have proven he can still squeeze a few thin laughs from the laziest scripts – but Dowling asks nothing of the actor beyond “can you be stupid?” and “can your voice-over narration sound like every piece of cartoon voice work you’ve done in the past ten years?” Warburton doesn’t phone it in here, but there’s no reason he couldn’t have.
The bulk of the plot concerns Slyde’s struggles with “Bartology,” a Scientology lampoon that never gets off the ground, probably because its lone joke is “man, those Scientologists are annoying.” Andy Dick plays the cult’s leader, a pompous fraud who’s trying to buy out Rock’s office, eventually forcing the P.I. to take down the power-mad twit. He does this, you see, by dressing up like a giant pyramid and stumbling around the Bartology lobby, crashing into walls and magazine racks, which is, believe it or not, even less funny than it sounds.
There’s also some business about a mysterious femme fatale (Rena Sofer), and I’m guessing Dowling started to write a straight private eye parody involving Sofer, got sidetracked by the Bartology stuff, then half-assedly decided to merge the two, because effort is hard.
Sofer’s character is named Sara Lee, and that’s one of the film’s more complicated jokes. Effort is hard.
The levels of Rock’s incompetence varies throughout, depending on how dumb he needs to be for the limp jokes to work at that moment or how smart he needs to be to get us through a scene. Again: effort. It’s hard.
Oh, and an entire overlong scene is filled with what’s essentially a watered-down rerun of the Dr. Evil/Scott “shh” bit from “Austin Powers.” Effort. Hard.
The most curious aspect of “Rock Slyde” is its running gag involving gay pirate musical pornography, and before you think Dowling might have something here, please note one of his punchlines, written by an adult, involves the phrase “Butt Pirates of the Caribbean.” (Yes. Really.) Lest it scare off the target audience, all this limp-wrist humor is then countered with plenty of hetero reassurance (Rock loves black women with large rumps, we’re told), except, of course, for the part where we learn Dick’s character might be gay, like, for reals, and that’s obviously hilarious on its own, right?
Man, effort is hard.