“Pop Rocks”
(The ABC Family channel)

Going to the movies can be a dicey move. No matter what the previews, reviews and trailers say, you never know how good or bad the film is until you see it for yourself. There are the ones that are almost universally considered cinematic masterpieces, like Citizen Kane, Casablanca and The Godfather. These are the ones that were destined to be the silver-screen epics. Of course, there’s no “right” answer about whether a particular movie was good or not; some people worship the same movie that others throw out of second-story windows.

There is usually a general consensus about a film, however, which tends to determine its ranking. Based on complex mathematical factors (such as how many people walked out within the first 20 minutes), a movie may be placed into one of the following categories, listed in order: The Masterpieces, The Almost-Greats, The Good Enoughs, The Just Barely Adequates, The Wake-Me-When-It’s-Overs, The Abominations and the Any Movies Involving Ed Wood. Below all of these is the elite group of films known as the Made for TV Movies.

Guess what, everyone, we have another inductee to that last category. Pop Rocks failed to live up to my standards, which is disturbing, because I didn’t have any going into this movie. (Apparently, it doesn’t have any standards, either.) But really, how much can you expect from a motion picture with a plot like the one we’re given? What it boils down to is this: A middle-aged loan officer thinks his family and associates are so stupid that they’ll never find out he’s got a glitter-rock alter ego.

Specifically, the story is that Jerry Harden (Gary Cole) is a loan officer with a long-forgotten past: He used to be known as “The Dagger,” the lead singer for a heavy metal band called Rock Toxin. While with the band he met Allison (Sherilyn Fenn), went AWOL on the group and later married Allison. More than 20 years later, he’s got a decent job, is still married and has two kids, Liam and Lilly (Asher Book and Johanna Braddy).

Life is more or less normal until Izzy (David Jensen), the band’s guitarist, comes to see Jerry about doing one last show, a reunion concert. Jerry eventually agrees to the idea, except there’s a snag: He’s never told anyone about his past, and plans to keep it that way. As he weaves himself into a tangled web of deception, everyone becomes more and more suspicious of him until his wife becomes convinced he is having an affair. Now he is faced with a tough decision to make: Quit the band or stay for the gig?

Suppose we take a closer look at two areas: what the show did right and where it went wrong. The latter is sure to take a lot more time. There are a few things to give the movie credit for, I suppose. Convincing grown men to dress in the outfits they did is a feat in itself. And secondly, nobody on the crew (to my knowledge) quit the project, even in the face of extreme absurdity. That really shows a lot of courage… no, scratch that, a lot of masochism.

OK, maybe not. I will grant that the general idea of a businessman with a rock-star past is a relatively novel idea, and the movie does have some amusing moments. Actually, most of the cast members aren’t terrible at what they’re doing; Gary Cole and Sherilyn Fenn, when in “regular human being” mode, seem down-to-earth enough to be believable parents. Asher Book and Johanna Braddy are underused, but both of them are comfortable enough in their roles. There really isn’t much to say about David Jensen and his “band,” although they have the courage to act as offbeat as the roles require.

To me, though, the best two players are Wendy Talley and Andrea Frankle (Jerry’s secretary and Allison’s secretary, respectively), who are a lot of fun to watch. Talley has a rubbery face and a certain kooky undertone to her character, and seeing her “closet swinger” side is great. She also gets some of the best lines—inadvertently, I think—like when she says “I think he’s scaring the customers,” referring to Izzy, who is in the bank. Secondly, Frankle is one of those actresses with the sort of personality you can’t quite put your finger on; her character is a sarcastic, “liberated woman” type with a hopeless-romantic streak somewhere. She just seems real.

Now on to the negatives. It’s too bad that the show turned out like it did, because even though it wasn’t exactly an inspired idea, it still had unrealized potential. Basically it boils down to the writing: Other than the businessman-bandleader idea, this story is amazingly convoluted. Like I said earlier, it’s preposterous to suggest that a man could act like he does and expect to get away with it. Even if this were the only thing Jerry had ever lied to his wife about in his life, it sure takes away from his credibility, yet we’re supposed to believe that a silly concert heals all the boo-boos. It’s amazing the man has stayed married so long, considering matrimony is supposed to be based on trust.

This movie also tries, quite literally, almost every single trick in the book to elicit laughs. It’s like the living, breathing stereotype to end all stereotypes: We have the happy-or-so-it-seems family, made up of the overworked-yet-underpaid breadwinner, the picture-perfect daughter-who-later-turns-out-to-have-a-rebellious-streak and the already rebellious son. The mom is the victim of the husband’s actions yet is always forgiving.

Guess what kind of job the typical father works at: a conservative bank with a stuffy old square of a manager. The mom has actually gotten a career in real estate (of course). Her job’s benefits package promised her that she would always have her assistant on-hand, who is good for not only taking phone calls but giving romantic advice and being a girlfriend in general. Allison and Sarafina (the assistant) have to put up with Helen Hunter, the self-righteous, ultra-conservative woman running for City Council. She is, by law, required to be married to the other antagonist (the bank manager) and is also required to have a wild uninhibited side that will come back to haunt her.

What else have we got heaped up in the unoriginal-ideas pile? Did we mention that Mom gets to have one of those heart-to-hearts with her daughter? Maybe the falling-out scene where the wife confronts the husband and later gets an “I told you so” look from her secretary. And what better way for Dad to try to dupe his family than to use the “working late” excuse? Or near the end of the movie, Jerry accidentally rear-ends a woman and is in deep trouble, until he proves his identity to the cop. This causes the officer to ask for an autograph and then, instead of doing his legal duty, gives Jerry a high-speed, lights-flashing, alarm-blaring ride to the concert he’s late for.

I don’t even have time to go into all the other inane things the movie tries to pull off. Are we supposed to be as dense as Jerry thinks Allison is? When he finally confesses, he says he was afraid of her. No, he wasn’t. He was hoping to pull a fast one without having to reveal his rowdy past. Of course, all does end well, and Jerry does seem remorseful. He gets to rock on stage one last time, too. But the story sure takes a roundabout way of getting to that happy ending. Everything leading up to it is, well, moronic. Let’s be frank: Helen Hunter was at a Van Halen concert in ’82, still has a thing for “The Dagger” and gives him her bra with her phone number written on it?

Helen and her husband, Carl, both get their comeuppance: Jerry has one of those dreadful scenes where he gets to tell off his boss and walk out triumphantly. This is terribly like Dead Poets Society, where the entire class shows its “defiance” to the principal (for firing their unconventional teacher) by everyone standing on their desks at the same time. Likewise, once Jerry leaves (after dancing on a countertop), everyone in the bank begins dancing to the music he was playing… except for Carl, of course. Later, “The Dagger” returns Helen’s bra to her while she is being interviewed by a reporter, then adds that, by the way, the bank manager’s free checking option is bogus.

I can’t even go into much more without becoming physically ill. The cast is decent, but the characters might as well be zombies in a third-rate horror flick … oh, wait, they are. There are plot holes you could drive a truck through. The film is the single most mindless, incompetent, hackneyed load of feeble poppycock I’ve ever wasted two hours of my life on. If the writers are people with hidden talents, they hide them a little too well!

Also, the only thing louder than Rock Toxin’s music is the outfits, which don’t even have a measurable decibel level. Olivia (on realizing the truth about her father, after he saves her from a precarious situation) says to him, “Thank God … I was so worried you actually wore those tights to the gym.”

Hopefully Gary Cole and the others can hide this little dark secret better than Jerry hid his. It’s not good for your career when you’re wearing knee-high platform boots, red-and-black tight leather jeans, a black leather cutoff vest, a blond wig and stage makeup reminiscent of a deranged mime. Seems everyone has a skeleton in the closet, but speaking of bones, give some credit to Gary: He has to contort that middle-aged body in ways most people couldn’t. You’d wonder if the next day, there'll be a “snap, crackle, pop” that doesn't involve cereal… “dem bones, dem dry bones!”

Well, here’s a closing thought or two. I would like to comment on Kathryn Shattuck, who wrote an article summarizing the show, taking it mostly from the perspective of Gary Cole. She is accurate and gives some interesting insights, but as a reader I couldn’t get a clear read on her. She gives a lot of good info, but in doing so she does not include any personal input or insights. I don’t claim to be better, but I have to say how the movie struck me. If I could make a suggestion, it would be “don’t do the show,” but it’s a little too late for that, isn’t it! How about this, instead: When the movie was done and “in the can,” maybe it should have been literally so… in the rubbish can. Like many great movies, this one is not to be missed by collectors. The trash collectors, that is. Sorry, Pop, but the only “rocks” you’ve got are the ones in your head.