Rock of Ages Blu-ray Review
Nothin' but a Good Time...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, October 7, 2012
Rock of Ages
tries. It tries so
hard. Tries to have it all, tries to live it up, tries to cram a be-all end-all compilation of '80s hard rock hits under the roof of a sensible musical, tries to revel in the excess of the decade, tries to evoke the erratic Pour Some Sugar on Me
spirit of hair metal, tries to rock you like a hurricane, tries for laughs, tries for swoons, tries for satire, tries for awww
s, tries for yeeeah!
s... tries, tries, tries. But like poor Drew Boley, the juke box hero of the film who loves rock n' roll but discovers every rose has its thorn, Rock of Ages
hit me with its best shot and did little more than harden my heart. (Fun with song titles. Woo! Moving on.) It succeeds and fails in equal measure, delivering the goods -- casting, killer songs and... erm, casting -- as often as it comes apart at the movie musical seams. It mostly gets high on silly spoofing, bad hair and flashbulb nostalgia, though, stumbling from scene to scene, musical number to musical number, without a sense of what it hopes to accomplish.
West Hollywood, 1987. Upstart singer Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough, the 2011 Footloose
remake) moves to Los Angeles, falls for a humble rock star hopeful named Drew Boley (Diego Boneta, the 90210
reboot), and scores a job at The Bourbon Room, a hot Sunset Strip nightclub run by grizzled owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
) and his dim-witted second-in-command Lonny Barnett (Russell Brand, Get Him to the Greek
). The happy couple is just that, happy, until legendary rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise, Jack Reacher
) rolls into town and upsets the delicate balance of Sherrie and Drew's love. And that's not the only chaos Jaxx leaves in his drunken, destructive wake. He enrages and
seduces Rolling Stone
reporter Constance Sack (Malin Åkerman, Watchmen
), leaves the Bourbon Room in dire financial straits no thanks to his sleazy manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti, Cosmopolis
), and ignites a firestorm of protests from moral crusader Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago
), who just so happens to be married to the mayor (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
). Before the star-struck lovers know what him 'em, Paul scouts Drew and leads him into the depths of Boy Band Hell, Sherrie finds a new job at a strip joint run by a woman named Justice Charlier (Mary J. Blige, I Can Do Bad All by Myself
) and Stacee begins to awaken from his fame-induced coma.
The real fun to be had with Rock of Ages
? Watching Cruise, Baldwin, Giamatti, and Zeta-Jones work. Cruise is all at once a force of over-the-top, oversexed, over-rocked nature and completely in control of his craft. He doesn't just steal the show; he walks right out the front door with it, and without much of a fight from Hough or Boneta, the film's supposed leads. Director Adam Shankman describes Cruise's Stacee, high-reaching hair metal singing voice and all, as a "brilliant mashup of Axl Rose, Keith Richards and Jim Morrison," a bold claim that couldn't be closer to the truth. Baldwin, meanwhile, is an absolute blast, digging through his bag of SNL
tricks to earn some of the biggest laughs of the bunch. Rock of Ages
lost me, but give me a Bourbon Room spin-off with Dupree, Barnett and frequent guests Jaxx, Gill and Mayor Whitmore, and I'm in. Giamatti chews through every scene that comes his way too, and does so with such silver-tongued ease and vicious glee it's a wonder someone hasn't cast him as a supervillain in a comicbook movie. Then there's Zeta-Jones, who looks more alive than she has in years as a feisty, rhetoric-spewing censorship zealot on a mission. Their songs come fast and easy (minus Giamatti, who's spared singing duties), with Cruise again storming center stage.
It's just a shame Hough and Boneta, the bulk of the remaining supporting cast, and screenwriters Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo and Allan Loeb's teetering, tottering script aren't up to snuff. Hough is as flat as her Proactive print ads, Boneta is less of a character than The Bourbon Room, Åkerman is one of the least convincing Rolling Stone
journalists ever committed to film (not to mention a listless love interest and a lifeless sex object), Brand's own daffiness gets in the way of Lonny's daffiness, Cranston is wasted, and Blige is as stiff as one of the stripper poles in The Venus Club. I know, I know. Stop sugar-coating, tell us what you really think.
The screenplay is an even bigger issue, not only because it makes dramatic and often unnecessary departures from the 2006 musical of the same name -- Jaxx is a redeemable antagonist granted a central arc and a triple-stacked happy ending, Sherrie is far more innocent, and the story and songs have been repurposed and rearranged, just to name a few -- but because it rests its hopes on some unabashedly excruciating lines of dialogue. Then there are the musical numbers, which feel plastered into a flimsy story fashioned to bend, break and bow in service of song lyrics written more than twenty-five years ago. And therein lies Rock of Ages
' downfall. The adaptation, the movie, the musical, the characters, the performances, the script... it isn't a monument to the music. It's a prisoner of the music, and it does whatever it's told.