In recent years, air guitar, formerly the province of drunken barroom enthusiasts, has gained something of a limited respectability, giving rise to international competitions and even spawning a feature-length documentary. It’s unlikely that air drumming—if indeed there are any who take its performance seriously—will ever enjoy a similar cachet, but in the alternate universe of Ari Gold’s thoroughly silly and only occasionally amusing Adventures of Power, a faithful few practice the art with a mock-religious fervor, even as the rest of the world looks on in incomprehension and ridicule.
Chief among the true believers is Power (Gold), an overgrown Napoleon Dynamite whose scraggly blond locks and square-framed glasses suggest Jon Heder’s über-geek, but whose head- and wristbands are a fashion touch all his own. A misfit in his New Mexico mining town, the hapless young man—whose life changed when he first heard Rush’s drum-stravaganza Tom Sawyer the day of his mother’s funeral—heads off, first to Mexico, where he impresses at a local air drumming contest by miming along to Rush drummer Neil Peart’s imposing stick work, and then to Newark to train for the national competition across the Hudson. Power is an even more anomalous presence on the rough Jersey streets than he was in his hometown, and Gold gets diminishing comic returns out of frequent shots of his very-white hero walking past the city’s largely black population, but he soon falls in with a group of dedicated, racially-diverse air drummers and begins perfecting his art.
Gold’s screenplay is a tad too ambitious for its thin comic premise, the filmmaker filling out his picture with a love story, some look-at-those-wacky-Chinese stereotyping, and, most significantly, a subplot involving a labor strike back in New Mexico led by Power’s father (Michael McKean). This last thread, while sneakily inspiring, introduces a dissonant note into the proceedings that jars uncomfortably with the rest of the film’s light comic touch. Tying the two plots together, the son of the vicious labor leader, a popular cowboy singer with the improbable name of Dallas Houston (Adrian Grenier), becomes Power’s chief competition in the climactic air drumming contest. Unfortunately, Gold insists on making idiot-proof the connections between the struggles of father and son by relentless crosscutting from a riot squad beating the defiant strikers to Power and crew preparing for their own battle, the forced equivalencies reaching their nadir when a striker steps on a fan magazine bearing Dallas’s smiling mug that just happened to make its way to the strike site.
But even when sticking to its central comic through line, Adventures is more miss than hit, mostly because Gold plays his character too broadly. Power’s spastic enthusiasm for his art finally proves exhausting, especially when coupled with the filmmaker’s frequent reliance on the mock heroic to ironically position the air drummer as some kind of inspirational savior. Amid the wreckage, Gold manages to rattle off occasional moments of comedic inspiration, as in the Mexican contest, which he stages as a cross between a cockfight and an acid trip, Richard Fancy’s over-the-top turn as the mining tycoon who disapproves of his son’s air-drumming ambitions, and the final competition in which the contestants rock out to, you guessed it, Tom Sawyer. It’s just that there’s only so much humor to be found in a headbanded misfit continually beating the air with a fake pair of drumsticks.