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‘Star’ manages to rock despite flaws and ending

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ROCK STAR — ** 1/2 — Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston, Timothy Spall, Timothy Olyphant, Dagmara Dominczyk, Jason Flemyng; rated R (profanity, vulgarity, nudity, brief sex, brief drug use, brief violence); see the "On the Screen" column for complete listing of local theaters.

There have been so many bad movies made about rock bands and music — especially in the past couple of years — that it's tempting to cut the uneven "Rock Star" some slack.

And that's in spite of the fact that this musically based comedy-drama runs out of steam about two-thirds of the way in and never fully recovers.

Still, at least the film seems to love music — in particularly, the unfairly ridiculed genre of "hair-metal." And it does a pretty credible job of showing why its fans got so caught up in it, as well as making a case for why it began to die out (it is loosely based on a true story, after all).

However, the punchless conclusion doesn't really fit here, which even a score of amusing outtakes at the end can't conceal.

The film's title refers to Chris Cole (Mark Wahlberg), a Pittsburgh youth devoted to his favorite band, Steel Dragon.

Chris takes the music seriously — to the point of insisting that his bandmates in "tribute band" Blood Pollution slavishly re-create Steel Dragon's biggest hits. Unfortunately, they believe he's taking it too seriously and boot him out rather unceremoniously.

So Chris and his girlfriend/agent Emily (Jennifer Aniston) mull over his options, which are brighter than you might think. As it turns out, the other members of Steel Dragon have had it with their singer (Jason Flemyng) and begin auditioning replacements.

And guess who they pick? Chris, who is dubbed Izzy by his heroes and who quickly wins over his new bandmates and fans. But as his fame grows, Chris and Emily find themselves drifting farther and farther apart.

In terms of content, the film shares a few things in common with last year's unfairly neglected "Almost Famous" as well as "Boogie Nights," the film that cemented Wahlberg's reputation as an actor.

Unfortunately, since the filmmakers (director Stephen Herek and screenwriter John Stockwell) seem to be at odds about whether the movie is supposed to be an all-out comedy or something more "important" than that (like the other two films), it gets a little overbearing.

What makes it work in spite of those faults, though, is Wahlberg, who is finally starting to deliver on his initial promise. Here he gives a performance that's both endearing and riveting.

As for Aniston, she seems a little wrong for the role but still manages to hold her own with Wahlberg and several real-life rockers.

"Rock Star" is rated R for occasional use of strong profanity, vulgarity (use of gestures, slang and suggestive dancing), flashes of female and male nudity, brief suggested sex, brief drug use (marijuana and amphetamines) and brief violence (a concert scuffle). Running time: 107 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com