Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny opens with an animated sequence in which the two main characters (Jack Black and Kyle Gass) declare the need for a “Tenacious D sound check.” They then let loose an enormous fart, the sound of which bounces around the theater in surround sound. I think it’s safe to say that within those first 45 seconds, you will be able to determine whether or not this movie is for you.
For those uninitiated with “the D,” they are a comedy/rock-and-roll band that Black formed with Gass prior to becoming a major star in his own right. This movie fictionalizes their origin. Black (referred to here as J.B.) grew up a rebellious child who rejected the ideals of his religious father (Meat Loaf, in an inspired bit of casting). He wanted to rock, not to pray. As an adult, he makes his way to California, where he encounters street musician Gass. They form a band, then set out to win a local open mic night.
However, their music isn’t good enough. Desperate to write a “masterpiece,” they go in search of a mythical guitar pick (the Pick of Destiny) that is rumored to have been made from Satan’s tooth. Said pick allegedly gives musicians unbelievable, supernatural playing ability. They get a tip that it now resides in the Rock and Roll History Museum, so they decide to break in and steal it. This leads to an eventual confrontation with Satan himself.
It’s hard – perhaps impossible – to justify this movie in any sort of intelligent-sounding way. So I’m not even going to try. Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny is intentionally goofy and profane. It demands that you either accept or reject it on its own terms. Rarely has a major studio film seemed so unconcerned with whether the audience enjoys it. Then again, that’s part of the charm.
A lot of movies try to capture the essence of an old-fashioned cult film. They go over the top or engage in frequent campiness. This one, on the other hand, actually looks and feels like a cult flick. Director Liam Lynch incorporates animation, old school visual effects, and choreography to give the movie an intentionally weird, hypnotic feel. It’s the kind of thing that college kids go see at midnight after getting really drunk. I mean that as a compliment. This is, after all, a movie where J.B. gets lost in a forest, eats some wild mushrooms, then hallucinates that he’s cavorting with Bigfoot.
The central joke of Tenacious D is that Black and Gass don’t look like rock stars, yet they rock hard – with acoustic guitars, no less. Both are, shall we say, a little chubby, and Gass is bald. They’re about as far from the normal rock star image as you can get. Yet they have openly (and with tongue planted firmly in cheek) declared themselves the world’s greatest rock band. Most of their songs are about that same idea. The D skewer the whole hard rock phenomenon, yet they do it lovingly and with great affection.
The trippy humor will probably appeal to Tenacious D fans, and perhaps not so much to those who only know star Jack Black from more mainstream projects like School of Rock - although the two make interesting companion pieces. Sometimes The Pick of Destiny is funny, ha-ha; other times it’s funny, weird. I didn’t always know what to make of it, but that quality is also what kept me involved in it. And when the jokes don’t work, you can still have fun spotting all the celebrity cameos. Some are obvious (Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins) while other famous faces turn up as mere extras (Amy Adams, Colin Hanks).
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters (and, previously, Nirvana) appears as Satan in the big climax, a “rock off” between the band and the devil. What a sight - Kyle Gass and Jack Black squaring off against a gargantuan red Satan in a parking lot. The devil sings about wanting to make Gass his “bitch.” They sing about making him perform an obscene act that I won’t describe here. I’ll say this about Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny: I wasn’t always sure what I was watching, or who the hell thought it up, but it was always amusing and never boring. That, in itself, pretty much rocks.
( out of four)
Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny is rated R for pervasive language, sexual content and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
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