ROCK OF AGES, 2012
Director: Adam Shankman
Stars: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston
Review by Joshua Starnes
ROCK OF AGES MOVIE TRAILER WATCH
Set in 1987 Los Angeles, Drew and Sherrie are two young people chasing their dreams in the big city. When they meet, it's love at first sight, though their romance will face a series of challenges.
Like any other film genre musicals don’t have to be camp heavy spectacles more concerned with the pomp of the musical numbers than their characters or story. They don’t have to be but most of the time they are, for the same reason so many action films fall into the same trap. The majority of the creativity involved is focused on the big musical numbers and then tied together with the barest bones of a story, just enough to move from number to number. And just like their action movie distant relatives, they sometimes manage to be truly entertaining despite that and sometimes manage to be unwatchably dull because of it.
“Rock of Ages” is somewhere in between.
The story is that of any ‘talented youngster fresh from the farm’ story as far back as such things existed. The youngster this time around is wannabe singer Sherrie Christian (Julian Hough) who steps off a bus from the breadbasket and into fast-paced rock club scene of the mid-80s, when the notes where high and so was the hair. She has no idea where to start, but thanks to some providence and a mugging she quickly gets a job at the Bourbon Room (a bowdlerized version of the Whiskey A-Go-Go) and meets another youngster, Drew (Diego Boneta) with the a similar dream. The two might just be able to beat the odds and make it, unless fame and fortune drives them apart.
You can call it playing with archetypes or lazily hacking out clichés but the end result is about the same. The Sherrie and Drew are exactly as flat and wooden as they sound and Hough and Boneta are not experienced enough to put anything interesting into them. Director Adam Shankman seems to understand that as he has surrounded them with more interesting performances to inject humor and interest into the film.
Most of that humor comes from Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his man Friday Lonny (Russell Brand) who sit at the center of most of “Rock of Ages” plot threads, observing and commenting on them as they try to keep their beloved club open. Baldwin’s particular brand of dry delivery bounces off Brand’s over-the-top exuberance perfectly and the pair contribute the bulk of the films best moments.
The rest, believe it or not, come courtesy of Tom Cruise wasted wastrel of a rock god – Stacee Jaxx. A sort of mish mash of Axl Rose, Vince Neill and any other 80s hair metal front man you can think of (with a dash of Michael Jackson weirdness thrown in), Jaxx is the worst of what Sherrie and Drew have to look forward to: success without purpose. Jaxx has achieved everything he ever wanted and found the end result empty and his life a meaningless parade of sex and drugs. Jaxx doesn’t call for much as a character as the bulk of his weirdness is bundled up in his surroundings while his dialog comes out in a laconic whisper. Cruise does it well, however, giving less and coming up with more in both the musical numbers and the personal interactions. And he gets the single best throw away one line in the entire film.
For all that’s good about it, though, it’s impossible to ignore what is flat out dull. Which is everything else. Sherrie and Drew’s relationship to each other and to the music industry goes through exactly the plot twists you would expect as they cover extremely well worn ground. Opening for Stacee at the Bourbon Room, Drew is offered a shot at the big time by Stacee’s manager (Paul Giamatti, the film’s other guilty pleasure), leaving Sherrie behind unemployed on the mean streets of LA.
Except they’re not really that mean. “Rock of Ages” wants to be a fun for all ages film, portraying the 80s LA rock scene as just a bunch of 20 year olds drinking beer and listening music. Sex, drugs and rock n roll has become just rock n roll. It’s enough to wonder what on earth the new mayor’s (Bryan Cranston) crusading wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is crusading against in the films other least interesting plot line.
“Rock of Ages” isn’t terrible so much as genially pointless. It doesn’t want to do much more serve as a playlist of 80s hair metal, and play off the emotional resonance of its audience. If that’s all you want, get a compilation CD. If you want to hear someone sing a mediocre rendition of those songs, play “Rock Band.” Don’t go see this.