Review: Rock of Ages
PLOT: Sherrie Christian, oh the time has come. To move to Hollywood, cuz' you're the only one can make your dreams… come true – thank you Night Ranger. Eighties hard rock gets a musical makeover in the big screen version of the popular Broadway production of ROCK OF AGES. A tale of a young woman pursuing a musical career in Hollywood who finds romance, music and inspiration in the form of a legendary rock star played by Tom Cruise.
There is no possible way that I could have found enjoyment in ROCK OF AGES. In the age of “Glee” and other pasteurized pop posing as rock songs, it would be absolutely impossibly to walk out of a two hour flick featuring dozens of Eighties hard rock hits. In fact, it would be absolutely ridiculous that I would be humming Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” while I figured out how to talk smack about this overtly silly yet epically extravagant piece of pop culture trash. However, here I sit with the timeless words running through my brain, “I'm hot, sticky sweet from my head to my feet, yeah…”
Director Adam Shankman (HAIRSPRAY) throttles the hell out of the camp here. This high energy production explodes on-screen with sheer abandon with little regard to any sort of story or smarts. With choppy editing and an overlong run time, this should have been a retro nightmare. The script written by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, Alan Loeb recreates the decade of hair bands with unabashed love. Yet there is very little substance inside this bubble gum rock opera. The tale of a young girl who arrives in Hollywood to be a singer is beyond cliché. So much so that it becomes clear that the filmmakers - and the original theatrical production as well - have no interest in saying much of anything besides the 1980’s were totally cool. For some, this may not be such a bad thing.
As the young girl named Sherrie Christian who carries with her big hopes and dreams, Julianne Hough offers up a ton of perky charm. Her high pitch cooing and her girl next door looks make for an appealing enough leading lady. Even if the almost plot of her arriving in tinsel town looking to be a star is merely serviceable. The second she steps off the bus from Tulsa, Oklahoma, she is robbed of her suitcase only to be rescued by heartthrob headbanger Drew Boley (Diego Boneta). Hoping to help a girl out, he gets her a job at a hip rock club, they fall in love, they break up - but maybe someday true love will find its way back into their hearts. Whatever! Yet Hough and Bonita are pleasant enough for two hours of decent eye candy that can sing.
What really makes ROCK OF AGES what one might call a guilty pleasure is the supporting cast. Mary J. Blige may not be the greatest actress here, but damn can she sing. Paul Giamatti is slimy and can do that better than anybody. Malin Akerman is a delight as a reporter for “Rolling Stone” magazine. Catherine Zeta-Jones is over-the-top entertaining as the wife of Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston), both of whom have a few secrets they are keeping from each other. And Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin nearly steal the show as a couple of club owners who hire Sherrie and bring the devil’s music to the world famous Sunset Strip in Hollywood at the fictional “Bourbon Room.” Every single one of these talented folk knows exactly the kind of movie they are making and they are enjoying the hell out of it.
Now for the showstopper! Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx is fan-f*cking-tastic! He relishes his inner rock star by belting out a few tunes including the Bon Jovi hit “Wanted Dead or Alive” and he lights up the screen. The actor – known for being a little short – is larger than life as the Rock God who hangs around with a chimp named “Hey Man.” The moment he steps on screen he is impossible to resist as a "reel life" living legend. Not that this character is deep in any way, yet it is most assuredly fueled with enough intensity and hyper-sexual appeal that it may even earn Cruise some serious accolades come award season… well, at the very least a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.
ROCK OF AGES is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination! It is “Headbangers Ball” for an “American Idol” generation. Thankfully, the songs work better than expected and the actors have enough talent to pull off a tune or two. This is an all-singing and dancing cinematic escape that has an overly long running time and never manages to be anything more than pretty and empty. Yet just to see Mr. Cruise and company relish in the absurdity is a treat in itself. If you don’t want to see Eighties hard rock with a ton of saccharine and a goofy tale of making it in Hollywood, you’d best avoid this at all costs. But if you love rock and roll and don’t mind putting another dime in the nostalgia jukebox, this may be nothing but a good time. Just how much do you love the 80’s?