A wise man once said that every rose has its thorn, and Rock of Ages definitely has its fair share is sticking points. This big-screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical delivers as an homage to all things rock and roll circa the 1980s, suited perfectly for anybody who remembers the era of big hair and bigger rock personalities.
The film version of Rock of Ages focuses mostly on the rock and roll, and less on the sex and drugs. Sure there is a fair share of all three going on, but this treatment is as tame as an after school special.
It is a full-fledged musical set to some of the best rock ballads and anthems of the time. The story centers on Sherrie Christian (the beautiful Julianne Hough), who’s just a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world. She doesn’t take the midnight train (a Greyhound bus actually), but she ends up in Hollywood where she meets Drew (Diego Boneta), a struggling rock-star-wanna-be who is working at the hottest night club in town, the Bourbon Room.
Drew gets her a job as a waitress there, and we meet some of the players. The club’s owner is Dennis Dupree (a hippied-out Alec Baldwin, as a 60s-70s era rocker who has become a grizzled and bitter rock and roller), and his right-hand man is Lonny (Russell Brand, the only actor in the film who didn’t really have to change his appearance to fit into the time period).
The Bourbon Club is in financial trouble, and they are relying on the very last performance of the aging Rock God Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) – the front man of the band Arsenal – to get them out of debt by performing at the club. Jaxx is handled by his greasy manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti, channeling his “Pig Vomit” sleaziness) and an entourage of bouncers and hookers.
Meanwhile, because rock and roll is evil, the new mayor (a finicky Bryan Cranston) and his uber-conservative wife Patty (Catherine Zeta-Jones) look to shut down the Bourbon Club and restore wholesome purity to the city.
But really, the plot only exists to string together rock song after rock song. It’s an enjoyable ride, and the music is the real star, even making you overlook the questionable casting and acting. Classics like “Paradise City,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Here I Go Again,” “Waiting For a Girl Like You,” and “Don’t Stop Believin'” are featured – among many, many others. The best musical numbers in the film are when we get medleys of classic tunes such as mash-ups of “Juke Box Hero/I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Shadows of the Night/Harden My Heart,” and “We Built This City/We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
All of the actors sing for themselves, and even professional singers like Mary J. Blige shows up to croon a few classics later on. The funniest bit in the film is a duet between Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin, but to name the song they sing together would be to ruin the joke.
Not having seen the Broadway play, I’ve been told that there are some changes to the plot, and even a few different songs have been omitted or added. But you don’t have to have seen the play to pick up on the film’s origins. Like most musicals that are adapted to the screen, many scenes feel like they may have been better suited for the stage. Others really benefit visually.
At just over 2 hours, Rock of Ages overstays its welcome for sure, but its all about the next song. So while certain portions dragged on for what seemed like ages, other portions truly rocked.
Perhaps the only notable achievement other than the music in Rock of Ages is Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx. He gives a powerfully fierce and funny portrayal as an aging man-child existing on the fringes of reality. His persona reminds us of real-life rockers such as Jim Morrison or Bret Michaels, and Cruise’s intensity in the role stands out among many of the other caricatures featured in the film. It’s early and I could be going out on a ledge, but this is the sort of performance that could gain steam for awards in a supporting category this Fall.
Other roles are less believable, such as Diego Boneta as a hard rocker. He seems more suited for musical theater, which I guess this is, but he just seems like the kind of guy Stacee Jaxx would have beaten up in high school.
Love is a battlefield, and this movie tells us that the heart of rock and roll is still beating. All it takes is a bit of heartache and some suffering in order to connect to rock music, which is perhaps why it continues to endure.
If you love 80s rock, you’ll love Rock of Ages, but you didn’t have to read this review for me to convince you of that. For us casual rockers or those unfamiliar, Rock of Ages could just be seen as another poke at one of the silliest decades in our history. There is no harm in glorifying sex, drugs and rock and roll when, after all, the 80s embodied all three.
This film celebrates – in all of its denim glory – a world where rock rules. It’s nothin’ but a good time, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical
Run Time: 2 hours 3 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Juliann Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bryan Cranston, Mary J. Blige, Malin Akerman
Directed by Adam Shankman (Bedtime Stories, Hairspray (2007), The Wedding Planner)
Opens locally on Friday, June 15th, 2012 (check for show times).
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