Rock of Ages Review By Adam
First of all, I’m not a ‘musical’ man. Every time one comes out I see the reviews and think I should check this out. Every time I follow that impulse, I find myself sitting in the cinema, feeling like an imposter. I kind of enjoy what I see, but I never ‘get’ it. You have to be a totally uninhibited (or gay, according to Lewis) audience member to really throw yourself into a musical – when someone bursts into song for no reason, I feel the squirms coming on. But you know what? I tapped my feet to Rock of Ages.
Rock of Ages follows Sherrie (Julianne Hough) as she travels from Oklahoma to Hollywood to make it as a singer, but soon after she arrives she is robbed. Good Samaritan Drew (Diego Boneta) comes to her rescue and gets her a job at ‘The Bourbon Room’, a hotpot of sex and rock n’ roll run by the hedonistic Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his slinky partner Lonny (Russell Brand). The Bourbon Room is in financial strife and Dennis is counting on rock superstar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to revitalise his establishment with a gig for the ages. Mismanaged by the sleazy Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti), Stacee is the embodiment of rock excess. He is losing his soul in a sea of booze and women and becoming increasingly reclusive. Can Stacee get his shit together and save the Bourbon Room? Or will a political, crazed, moralizing bitch (Catherine Zeta-Jones) shut it down? Will Drew and Sherrie fall in love or will the spotlight tear them apart? Rock of Ages‘s plot isn’t trying to break any new ground, it just wants to stomp on it with rocking feet.
I think the reasons why Rock of Ages worked for me are simple. Firstly, this film employs accessible hard rock songs from the 80s including hits from Def Lepard, Bon Jovi and Journey. I’m no ‘hair metal’ fiend, but I’m glad that we have something different from the jazzy stlyings of recent musicals Chicago and Nine. I’ll take crowd rousing anthems over people singing in little girl voices (Aww, schucks) any day. Musicals often become fan favourites as people love to revisit them and learn the songs. I would never fucking do that, so I think this film’s musical accessibility really worked on me. Secondly, the Cruise-Missile. Tom Cruise is monumentally good in this film. If this film was called Stacee Jaxx it might have been my film of the year. He is beyond committed in this role – he is Stacee Jaxx. Watching Rock of Ages, it dawned on me that Cruise never changes his tone, voice or accent when he acts, yet I find him oddly fascinating to watch. And, strangely, all of his characters are idiosyncratic. The only reasoning I can find is this: Cruise truly believes he is the character, every time. Next time you see him in something, look for a lack of conviction. You won’t find it. It is like he has transcended acting and has multiple personality disorder. If the bottom ever falls out of Cruise’s film career, at least he could become a rock star or secret agent or vampire – he is that fucking good. But hey, I’ve always been in Cruise’s corner. The dude isn’t even human; he is a robot programmed to make great films.
The rest of the cast are all game. With a few exceptions, everyone delivers. Juilanne Hough is a triple threat as Sherrie. Not only is she gorgeous, but she has great pipes and real stage presence; Hough is the real deal. I wish I could say the same for her counterpart Diego Boneta. He is dreamy in a monobrowed, Ken-doll kind of way, but he lacks the edge of a rockstar. I know the dude is young (21) but I thought he lacked confidence and I didn’t buy into his rock persona. His line readings are a bit earnest and some of the exchanges between him and Hough feel like the air has been vacuumed out of them. With the exception of Russell Brand (who’s ‘oh, so witty’ musings are beginning to grate) the supporting cast rock. Catherine Zeta-Jones is fucking manic in this film and she is so consistently in-your-face that it works. Alec Baldwin seems incapable of being anything but hilarious these days and a song - ‘I Can’t Fight This Feeling’ - between him and Brand is the comedic highlight of the film. Giamatti oozes slime as the greasy manager and Malin Akerman gives as good as she gets as the Rolling Stone reporter sent in to deconstruct Stacee Jaxx.
While I enjoyed Rock of Ages, it is not a flawless gig. It is far too long at 123 minutes (a Mary J. Blige subplot should have been axed completely) and some of the non-musical exchanges are flat-out awkward. For every zinger that Justin Theroux (yes, that Justin Theroux), Alan Loeb and Chris D’Arienzo’s script nails, another falls flat. Coupled with a miscast lead (Boneta), it almost sinks this ship. Every time this film gets bogged down though, Cruise pops back up and reinvigorates proceedings. It is beyond stating the obvious to say that this film is flat-out silly (the minute Sherrie busts into song on the bus, alarm bells will ring in most people’s heads), but it is a shame that most red-blooded males will avoid this film like a prostate exam, as it’s pretty damn sexy. I think a few parents will blush when Malin Akerman starts untying Cruise’s leather pants with her teeth.
Director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) is completely in tune with this material. He makes it seem normal that people swing on lampposts and use trash can lids as percussion instruments. The majority of his set pieces are bustling with energy and sharp choreography (the Bourbon Room in full swing is a sight to behold). Shankman’s kinky, raunchy sensibility helps offset some of the corn from the main romance.
I’m sure nothing I could possibly say could make you change your postion on Rock of Ages, as musicals are like blue vein cheeses – you either love them or fucking hate them – but if you get dragged along to this, you just might find yourself enjoying it.
Three Stars (Four, if you love musicals or are gay)