Jack Black has only one setting: all the way up. And his singing for "Tenacious D in 'The Pick of Destiny'." is an excuse to slip off your noise-blocking headphones, since its the last weapon in his blunt, assaultive arsenal he has yet to fully wield at the movies.
It's an amazing instrument, his voice. Streep-like in its versatility, Freddy Mercury-esque in its drama, and atomic in its force, Blacks voice freakishly refracts a selected history of vocal acrobatics that puts Gilbert and Sullivan and Don Dokken in reasonable aural proximity. He might be the only man alive who could out-belt Christina Aguilera, and if Black didnt think being a rock star were a joke, hed be one. Instead, with his affable, tubbier musical sidekick, Kyle Gass, he tells the joke, with hilarious skill, as the band Tenacious D.
Directed and co-written with the duo by the musician Liam Lynch, "The Pick of Destiny" recounts, with liberties, the bands story. Its a gift to the followers whove hung on Gass and Black's every lick since they were doing guest spots on HBO's "Mr. Show." Their movie rewards fans devotion with 90-plus minutes of cruddy, stoned adventures that veer from sitcom slacking to an exciting showdown with Satan.
I can explain: Black and Gass are JB and KG, two penniless and uninspired musicians who dream of elusive stardom and copious pot. But they also worry about holding on to their unkempt apartment just off Venice Beach. ("Well pay the rent," Black says, "with our rock.") One day, they notice that their guitar heroes Townshend, Page, Van Halen, etc. all play with the same pick.
They get a tip from Ben Stiller, in a Gene Simmons frizz wig, that this pick is accursed and sacred. Fashioned from one of the devils teeth, the pick has traveled from medieval times to the fingers of Robert Johnson and Angus Young. Now it rests in a rock museum, and JB and KG hatch a plot to steal it. Obviously, the trip to nick the pick is more a distraction from their fruitless songwriting labors than a solution to them. But their 300-mile journey does afford a nasty cameo from Tim Robbins as a crippled European and a DayGlo musical interlude after JB swallows some forest mushrooms.
As a movie, its a mess and lazy, too. Lynch doesn't appear to see the film medium as anything more than a means by which to showcase his stars. A random mashing together of bits and set pieces does not a motion picture make, however not under the circumstances. Lynch took the same tack in "Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic," another movie that managed to be funny despite how indifferently it was made.
"The Pick of Destiny" has greatish moments. That rock-off with Satan (who, unfortunately, appears to be a live-action version of the gay underlord from the "South Park" movie) is one. Another is the stellar first 10 or so minutes, which are presented as a rock opera the rest of the film never turns out to be. (Surely, a "Tommy" lurks in Tenacious D or at least a "Kilroy Was Here.")
Regardless, Black thrives in these grubby environs. His full-throttle bodily chaos makes more sense in movies done on the cheap than in blockbusters and polished comedies like "The Holiday," in which he stars next month opposite Kate Winslet. Black and Kevin Smith should be the DeNiro and Scorsese of no-budget. Though Black is a Hollywood star now, this movie makes a loud, cheerful case for him to return from whence he came.