Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny

The logical problem with Tenacious D episodes — on the 1999 HBO series, and now the feature-length skit The Pick of Destiny — is that nobody in the D’s unimpressed audience recognizes the D’s talent. Time after time, the two-man acoustic-guitar band — Jack Black on vocals and rhythm guitar, Kyle Gass on lead guitar and back-up vocals — go onstage and indulge their lofty fantasy of being great hairy beasts of heavy-metal rock. You’d think somebody in the crowd (as happened in real life) would see that Black is a master of comic bluster and Gass is a fleet-fingered, classically trained wizard. But the mythos of Tenacious D demands that they be overlooked and downtrodden, in the tradition of comedy duos going back at least seven decades.

Directed by frequent D collaborator Liam Lynch (also the co-creator of MTV’s serenely trippy puppet show Sifl and Olly), The Pick of Destiny tells the story of how J.B. and K.G. got together, bombed at open-mic nights, and decided to write their names in the legend books of rock by capturing the elusive titular pick — fashioned from a chip of Satan’s tooth, of course. Every guitar god you can name has held the pick at one time or another, and it currently resides in the Rock & Roll History Museum, waiting for our portly heroes to come and steal it.

This is a rambling sketch movie much in the tradition of Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, and the Cheech & Chong films — plotless stoner comedy whose raunchy puerility is its point. I enjoyed it, though as a casual fan who also dug the Tenacious D album and DVD, I don’t know how it’ll play for newcomers. Some of it kind of blurs together with my memories of the Tenacious D HBO series; some of it, such as when K.G. gets lured away by college babes to play at their party, isn’t very inspired. But the company is consistently amusing — Jack Black with his baby-demon grin, hurling his stocky body into the spotlight, while Kyle Gass plants his feet and stoically lays down gorgeously intricate riffs. Musically, Gass and Black are Beauty and the Beast.

The Pick of Destiny gets a lot of mileage out of the overblown rhetoric and imagery of heavy metal — the bargain-basement Satanism, the schlock-medieval trappings, the tarot symbols, the worship of noise and weed and babes. On one level, the D — two guys playing head-banging anthems about kielbasa or karate on acoustic guitars — satirize the perennially sophomoric obsessions of rock. On another, though, they restore a kind of purity to it; Jack Black in particular is a loudly passionate acolyte of Everything That Rocks, and his church is inclusive enough to welcome Robert Johnson and Beethoven. If it’s loud or insane and it rocks your face off, it’s good.

Really, though, the best way to experience Tenacious D is to watch and hear them doing their mock-titanic specialty in concert; their Complete Masterworks DVD includes a full gig they did in London, and any five minutes of it are funnier and even more dramatic than this amiably dumb-assed movie. The Pick of Destiny doesn’t go much beyond the HBO show, and for every bit that hits (J.B.’s mushroom-enhanced romp with Sasquatch) there’s one that just sort of lies there (four guys dressed like the Clockwork Orange droogs beat up J.B. — a tenuous Beethoven connection, I guess). It’s the kind of movie that’ll play better on DVD, allowing you to kick back and check out the deleted scenes and listen to the audio commentaries. Still, the very fact that there’s a Tenacious D movie that opened in almost 2,000 theaters shows that this can still be a fairly cool and amusing world.

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Explore posts in the same categories: based on tv show, comedy, cult

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