Film Review – Rock of Ages
Adam Shankman’s Rock of Ages (2012) is a goofy, silly little musical that surprisingly won me over by the time it ended. Sure, there are issues with it, as plain as the eye can see. But what it also has is a lively sensibility—there’s enthusiasm and energy here that balances out the more blatant weirdness and absurdity. A part of me really wanted to dislike the film, but I can’t deny that there is a good level of entertainment to be had, if only to see actors in performances you wouldn’t expect to see them in. I’d like to think of it like this: if you were fan of the popular stage show, and if the advertisements and trailers make you at all interested in this film, then you’ll probably find yourself having a fun time. The people who don’t like this kind of movie won’t go see it anyway, so it’s kind of a win/win situation for everybody.
The movie is set in 1987, although it is not the 1987 that existed in any kind of real world. A sense of nostalgia drips heavily in just about every facet you can think of. Hair, clothes, lingo and everything else you see shouts out at how awesome the ’80s were, when in actuality this movie only shows what people of today wish the ’80s were like. The music—in case you didn’t already know—is a mishmash of some of the biggest songs from some of the biggest bands to come out at the time. You have Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Journey, Poison, and Pat Benatar, just to name a few. Some of their biggest songs are jam-packed from the beginning of the film to the end, which actually makes it a bit of a detriment. There isn’t really enough time for a musical scene to really make an impact, because the film rushes too quickly to get to the next one.
The plot—or whatever excuse for a “plot” there is—is paper-thin at best. We see small-town-girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) arrive in Los Angeles by bus, with dreams of becoming a music star. Within literal minutes of stepping off the bus, she finds herself with a job as a waitress at the legendary rock club The Bourbon Room, and befriending the hunky city boy Drew (Diego Boneta), a musician who also dreams of making it big. Wow, if I had known I could be established in L.A. that quickly, I would’ve gone years ago! Anyway, Drew’s and Sherrie’s budding relationship is at the forefront of the film, but unfortunately Boneta’s and Hough’s performances are the least remembered. Sure, they fit the appearance of young love birds and are adequate singers, but I found them to have little to no on-screen chemistry, and whenever the film focused on their story, I impatiently waited for it to move on.
Some of the brighter spots of the film come from the supporting characters—mostly because they are played by more recognizable stars. Alec Baldwin plays Dennis, The Bourbon Room’s owner, who clings to his last threads of rock superstardom through the popularity of his club. He is teamed up with his British buddy Lonny (Russell Brand), and they share a very unique relationship as they fight to keep the club open, highlighted by arguably the funniest music scene in the film. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bryan Cranston pair up as the Mayor of L.A. Mike Whitmore and his wife, Patricia. Mike mostly plays second fiddle to Patricia, who has a burning desire to close the club down and rid the town of the sin-inducing music known as rock & roll. Ironically enough, Patricia’s performance of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” is just as inappropriate as anything else in the movie. All of the supporting players are effective and seem to be enjoying themselves…too bad the script gave them very little to work with in terms of character development.
Clearly, the standout highlight of the film is Tom Cruise as the rock god Stacee Jaxx. It’s safe to say that this is a Tom Cruise you have never seen before, and I was taken aback by how effective he was in this role. Yes, Tom Cruise is good here—in fact, really good. He seems to be channeling Axl Rose as the supremely talented yet highly troubled musical icon. Stacee Jaxx is everything you can think of: unreliable and unpredictable, with a monkey named Hey Man as his closest companion. But once he is on stage, he bursts out in raw energy and excitement. Cruise fills the performance surprisingly well; he is a combination of unfiltered sexuality and hidden vulnerability. His scenes with Rolling Stone writer Constance Stack (Malin Akerman) provide for some of the movie’s weirdest moments, but somehow it seems appropriate in Stacee Jaxx’s world. Even more shocking is that Cruise is actually a pretty damn good singer. His renditions of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” had me wondering if that was really his voice. It’s been a long time since Cruise sang to Kelly McGillis in Top Gun (1986), but his work here will no doubt be the one thing people will remember from it.
Shankman (along with writers Justin Therous, Chris D’Arienzo, and Allan Loeb) has made a musical filled with eccentric and quirky individuals. Only Mary J. Blige’s character seems to be grounded, even for being the resident strip-club owner. The film runs much too long, and the plot contrivances come in bunches. But despite the corniness, it’s also very funny, has an abundant feeling of earnestness, and is filled with enough recognizable music to make for a great late-night drunken karaoke session.
Final Grade: B-