05/10/2011 08:49 am ET | Updated Jul 10, 2011

Movie Review: Hesher

Ah, those lives of quiet desperation, stuck in ruts from which there seems to be no unsticking.

Everyone, it would seem, needs a Hesher in their lives.

Although not necessarily Hesher. Though Spencer Susser's dark comedy hangs in there for about half of its running time, it eventually runs out of ideas and goes soft, when it's been hard-edged from the jump.

Still, there's something exhilarating about Hesher: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As the title character, a headbanger with a mononym, Gordon-Levitt is a stringy-haired force of anarchy, wandering around shirtless showing his inky, home-made tattoos, cigarette screwed into the corner of his mouth.

He appears as though summoned from a bottle, a malevolent genie with a bad word for everyone -- but also a purpose. He shows up unannounced in the Forney household, ready to shake things up and get this family out of the pit of self-pity into which it's fallen.

Paul Forney (Rainn Wilson) is pill-addled and depressed, still in shock from the death of his wife a few months earlier. As a result, his adolescent son T.J. (Devin Brochu) is left to fend for himself -- and he's got issues of his own.

The first is the smashed-up family car. T.J. is initially seen pursuing a tow-truck that's hauling the badly damaged SUV off to the local gas station. The station owner chases him off when he tries to simply sit in the car -- and eventually consigns it to a junkyard, to T.J.'s alarm.

Meanwhile, T.J. has incited a classmate (Brendan Hill), who does odd jobs at the gas station and now makes it his mission to make T.J. miserable. But T.J.'s father is so zonked on anti-depressants that he's oblivious to the fact that his son is being viciously bullied.

One day, on the way to school, an angry T.J. has an encounter with a stranger, who turns out to be Hesher and whose living situation T.J. accidentally disrupts. So Hesher simply moves into T.J.'s house - and the clueless Paul and his guileless elderly mother (Piper Laurie) assume that he's an ill-mannered friend of T.J.

"What's he doing here?" Paul asks.

"Laundry," the perplexed T.J. says, trying to keep things honest and uncomplicated.