Director Adam Shankman has a solid track record with musicals. Though most know him as the director of the musical “Hairspray” from 2007, he has an extensive array of film and TV credits as choreographer. He is credited in this in titles ranging from his film “Hairspray” and “She’s All That” to more obscure choreography like “The Relic” and “Congo.” To call him qualified to make a musical on the big screen is a definite understatement, but the appeal and innocence of his previous directing credits can’t make “Rock of Ages” achieve new heights.
“Rock of Ages” is an ensemble musical led by “Dancing with the Stars” alum and part-time country singer Julianne Hough. Hough plays Sherrie, a Midwest girl looking to make it big as a singer in Los Angeles. Almost immediately, she finds herself on the verge of homelessness. Enter Drew, played by newcomer Diego Boneta, as her knight in rock and roll armor. Moonlighting as a bartender at The Bourbon Room, Drew too has dreams of taking his band to the top. With these inevitable lovebirds dreaming of their way up, the owner of The Bourbon Room and his right hand man (Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, respectively) struggle to keep the place from hitting rock bottom. The fate of The Bourbon Room is complicated further when the mayor’s wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) attempts to have rock and roll removed from the Sunset Strip, citing it as the perpetrator of the worst side of Los Angeles. It all comes down to Stacee Jaxx, played fearlessly by Tom Cruise, as the one rock and roll icon who could keep The Bourbon Room out of foreclosure.
In today’s film industry, where films apparently need to hover around the two-hour mark or blaze past it, “Rock of Ages” doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. It’s remaking of classic rock songs and ensemble script keep things from lagging for a majority of the film. It hits a few bumps, but I’ve never seen a musical that isn’t “Once” that can have a smooth ride from beginning to end. The direction is a little weak though, but most of the audience won’t find it too disarming. The passion and excitement that Shankman poured into “Hairspray” is largely absent here. The film hits all it’s marks, but doesn’t go beyond them.
The strength of the film rests on the singing. Russell Brand, Julianne Hough, and Catherine Zeta-Jones have all proven themselves capable in the past. Lead Boneta hits the notes just right, but his acting takes a backseat because of it. Alec Baldwin and Paul Giamatti hang in there, but they aren’t there to sing. The wild card was Tom Cruise. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Cruise commits so completely to the role that he comes across as a poor man’s Axl Rose (a comparison, I might add, that totally works for the film). This mixture of seasoned singers and new voices gives a little bit of a fun element to the film. But the more fun, the better.
It may not be as well executed as other recent musicals, but it works. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and knows to just go with the jokes and let the cheesiness and camp bring the audiences back again and again. 3 out of 5 stars.
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