Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny
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As they say, JB was born to rock. As a runaway in search of stardom, the portly singer moves to Hollywood to fulfill his dream. There he meets KG, who astounds him with stories of playing alongside various rock legends—and with his ability to shred on the guitar.
KG's adamant about building his solo career but eventually takes in JB under the guise of him auditioning to be on the next Kyle Gass Project album. The rock rookie's tryouts include cleaning the apartment, honing his stage presence, building up immunity against hecklers ... everything but testing his actual musical ability.
There's a reason for that: The skills here are limited. And not just for JB. KG is actually a wig-wearing wannabe rocker who's been trying to break into the music scene for 15 years, all while living off his mother's financial support. With nothing more than their desire to rock, the duo forms a new band, Tenacious D, and sets out to win the open mic contest at a local bar—and some cash to pay rent. In the process, they stumble upon "the darkest secret in the history of rock" involving a mystical guitar pick that instantly turns average Joes into rock gods.
A rabid fan lets Tenacious D borrow his car, though they lie to him about why they need it. JB and KG encourage each other at different times throughout their journey.
The majority of Pick of Destiny's lame storyline is influenced by a twisted spiritual backdrop. JB is shown growing up in a Christian home (the family prays before dinner, crosses are seen on the wall, Mom makes the sign of the cross, etc.), where rock 'n' roll is believed to be "the devil's work." Typical to the film's slaughtering of authentic spirituality, JB's dad firmly instructs his son, "You gotta praise the Lord when you're in my home," then adds that Jesus loves JB's brother more than him. Later, in a vision, Dad insults JB further while stating that Jesus doesn't love him and that he was essentially a mistake ("I should've used a condom").
From then on, the movie launches into a stream of references to angels, demons, spiritual practices and, most prominently, the devil. During one song, JB sings, "We walked with Jesus and His cross ... He did not die in vain." But more representative is an image of a psychic reading tarot cards. A statue of Buddha appears in KG's apartment. Satanic pentagrams are shown repeatedly. In one scene, JB invites his partner to stand with him in a "magic circle" (a pentagram) so they can be inspired and write a masterpiece.
The pick of destiny's legend goes something like this: In the Dark Ages, an evil wizard used his magic to summon Satan. While Beelzebub attempted to drag the human into the pit of hell, a blacksmith came to the rescue, in the process chipping the devil's tooth and ordering him back to his dwelling place. Endowed with the otherworldly musical abilities of Satan himself, that fragment was then used by the blacksmith to woo a fair maiden as he played the lute. Generations later, the pick was discovered in the hands of blues guitarist Robert Johnson, who influenced the origins of rock 'n' roll. "And the rest," according to a pick of destiny expert, "is history."
After JB and KG get their hands on the magical pick, they meet face-to-face with Satan and challenge him to a "rock-off." The devil supposedly can't refuse the contest per a "demon code." After the Tenacious D members complain that they won't be able to win the open mic contest because they "won't be fueled by Satan," a character (who ends up turning into Satan) comforts them by mocking the Christian explanation of Jesus' spiritual dwelling place. "Satan's inside all of us," he assures them before launching into a list of all the "not-so-bad" things Satan makes us do, including getting wasted and "having sex all night long."
According to KG, part of every male rocker's repertoire involves doing push-ups ... with his penis. After lots of crude dialogue about this, JB's "muscle" is given the chance to flex during a break-in scene. The camera zooms in as the rocker's clearly outlined penis (he's wearing underwear) becomes erect and pushes a button to turn off a security system.
As if we needed to see even more, JB and KG pull down their pants to reveal part of their backsides. (Their rears are also shown in cartoon form, as are the breasts of a naked Eve standing with Adam in the Garden of Eden.) A T-shirt worn by a bar patron depicts a crudely drawn but completely naked woman. A poster in KG's apartment exposes a naked woman covering her breasts. He and JB ogle a buxom girl in a bikini. Other women show cleavage.
In a concert, KG plays a double-necked guitar that's made in the shape of a woman's legs spread apart. As part of his numerous stage tricks, he licks the "private" parts of this guitar, sending women (and oddly, men too) in the crowd into an orgasmic frenzy as they seductively touch and grab themselves. During the rock-off, Satan unveils a table full of sex toys and devices, then makes several sexual motions during a song. Characters toss out dozens of other vulgar and obscene references to oral sex, gay sex, ejaculation and heterosexual intercourse (particularly sex with groupies). When KG is offered to Satan as part of the rock-off winnings, there's talk of rape and him being a sex slave to the devil.
While running from the police, KG drives recklessly through a variety of obstacles, flipping the car and causing it to eventually burst into flames. A couple of security guards shoot at the duo. JB is beaten up by street performers who kick, punch and attack him with sticks and a guitar. The rocker lands hard after jumping down a ventilation shaft (offscreen), and he accidentally smashes his guitar while attempting a stage slide. While auditioning for the Kyle Gass Project, he also gets a few bottles smashed over his head. (He wears a helmet and safety goggles.)
During a dream sequence involving Tenacious D playing a concert, the top part of a man's head explodes, splattering bits of his brain across the room and on his date. A stoned JB falls from a tree and lands groin-first on a branch. He then falls again and tumbles down a hillside. After causing several large amplifiers to topple over, JB and KG slide down a flight of stairs and smash through a gate. A menacing stranger pulls a knife on the duo (and launches into an explicit description of his plans to slice their genitalia).
Crude or Profane Language
The f-word is used in a variety of ways more than 100 times. The s-word trails at the comparatively low figure of 20. God's name is profaned slightly more than that, half of the time in combination with "d--n." Characters flippantly spew out more than 50 other vulgarities, crudities and obscenities, most of which are of the sexual sort ("c--k," "p---y," etc.).
Drug and Alcohol Content
In typical stoner-movie fashion, JB and KG often smoke marijuana from a bong. Late in the story, a horn of Satan is dubbed the "bong of destiny" as more hash gets consumed. Weed also is shown in plastic bags, and part of JB's audition includes scoring $10 worth of the substance. While revealing the history of the pick of destiny, a cartoon shows a dark wizard smoking from a hash pipe.
Several played-for-laughs scenes include under-the-influence characters. JB and KG watch TV while high. JB eats raw mushrooms and enters into a lengthy drug-induced vision that includes playing in a neon forest with Sasquatch and tubing down a river made of strawberry juice. A pair of security guards share a joint, and one asks the other if he's tripping.
Several customers are shown downing alcohol at the bar where the open mic contest is held.
Other Negative Elements
In order to achieve their rock-star dreams, Tenacious D resorts to breaking into a museum and stealing the pick of destiny. As expected, the movie includes several references to legendary metal bands (Slayer, Black Sabbath, Dio) that have made a career out of dark and often satanic allusions in their lyrics.
Among other things, JB relieves himself while carrying on a conversation with a stranger. He's then shown wiping himself.
I'm beginning to sound more like my parents did when I was growing up. They had a hard time understanding why I would listen to some of the music I did. To them, my rock 'n' roll and heavy metal was filled with indecipherable utterances disguised as lyrics and, in the words of my mother, "electric guitars played so loudly that it sounds like someone's screaming in your ear." How ironic, then, that for a few years in my adult life, they were proud that I'd become a professional, touring musician—playing electric guitar, no less.
But now I'm back in my parents' shoes. Rock-centric movies such as Pick of Destiny impolitely remind me that I'm no longer "cool." I'm not a part of the rocker crowd anymore. I don't listen to the same head-banging tunes. And, further still, I don't always "get" the appeal of certain acts—in this case, what makes an over-the-top, vulgar, one-note comedy funny to anyone.
I guess just as my parents did with my music, I can now see through the paper-thin facade of this salacious stage act. I know that Jack Black's unfunny routine draws laughs 98 percent of the time with a younger crowd simply because he's tossing in an f-word with every sentence. Or that his trick here is to present a poor man's Spinal Tap to fans who've probably never even heard of Christopher Guest ... or if they are familiar with that satire, doesn't see the difference because they're so inundated with mindless, heartless remakes that get tossed against the wall by an industry machine just hoping for any old shtick to stick.
In fact, with age and maturity I now notice how Tenacious D's Jack Black and Kyle Gass aren't all that different from their real-life versions. Yes, Tenacious D is a real band. Both guys are completely non-Hollywood material: overweight, unattractive and "old" (meaning they're past 35). And yet both have somehow defied the odds because they seem willing to do anything to be noticed. The Tenacious D thing didn't work out too well in 1997 when their HBO series got yanked after only two episodes, but that didn't stop these guys from making an album four years later. Or, now, a big-screen movie that no one seemed to be asking for.
The result is that, as with my '80s big-hair and '90s oh-so-angry metal bands, teens drawn to this particular brand of "hilarity" will get from it a whole lotta nothin'—and in the process ingest perverse sex gags, profane language and pointless, sometimes violent posturing. At least Black and Gass were honest enough in their film to state the facts: "What we got's gonna turn your brain into s---." Though it was stated more tactfully and without the sarcasm, I seem to recall wiser voices expressing a similar sentiment about my own youthful entertainment choices. Turns out I should have listened a little closer.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jack Black as JB; Kyle Gass as KG; Jason Reed as Lee; Tim Robbins as The Stranger; Ben Stiller as Marcus; Dave Grohl as Satan; John C. Reilly as Sasquatch; Meat Loaf as Jack's Father
Liam Lynch ( )
New Line Cinema