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  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

Rock of Ages (A Movie Review)


Starring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, Bryan Cranston, Will Forte, T.J. Miller, Erica Frene, Dan Finnerty, Eli Roth, Constantine Maroulis, Nuno Bettencourt, Sebastian Bach, Debbie Gibson and Kevin Cronin.

Screenplay by Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo and Allan Loeb.

Directed by Adam Shankman.

Distributed by New Line Cinema. 123 minutes. Rated PG-13.

You know you are in for an odd experience going to a movie which features Tom Cruise singing the hits of Def Leppard and Foreigner. You're either in for camp heaven or a train wreck of monumental proportions.

Strangely, the movie version of the popular Broadway musical Rock of Ages is both of these things, often at the same time.

Rock of Ages is a Disney-safe celebration of the Sunset Strip hair metal scene of the late 80s. It takes a plotline stolen from just about every metal video in the era – small town girl (former Dancing with the Stars hoofer Julianne Hough) moves to Los Angeles looking to become a star, only to be worn down by the big, bad city, which is determined to destroy her dreams.

The small-town girl wanting to find rock stardom, true love and the perfect hairspray is a cute, perky Oklahoman named Sherrie Christian (named that, obviously, so that the show could use both Steve Perry's "Oh, Sherrie" and Night Ranger's "Sister Christian.") She meets cute a hunky wannabe rocker (Diego Boneta) when she gets off the bus and has her suitcase stolen. The guy sees it happening and doesn't try to catch the crook, but at least he stops and commiserates with her.

Obviously, true love is cruising down the Sunset Strip.

Mix in some eccentric supporting characters, some relatively clever ribbing of the local club scene, a ridiculous conflicting religious group and a baboon dressed in human clothes. Then Rock of Ages dollops in dozens of 80s hits as sung by the cast.

Somehow most of the music here feels like Glee: The Hair Metal Album.

The singing is mostly pretty well done – if perhaps a bit overly auto-tuned. Even Cruise acquits himself just fine as a singer.

However, the "hair metal" designation of the soundtrack is awfully fuzzy. Does Quarterflash's "Harden My Heart" really fit in that genre? Or "We Built This City" by Starship? Or "Shadows of the Night" by Pat Benatar? Or even "Can't Fight This Feeling" by REO Speedwagon? If you are going to pick three songs from the Foreigner songbook, should two of those songs be that band's least rocking moments ("Waiting for a Girl Like You" and "I Want to Know What Love Is")? Speaking of Foreigner, what's with the awkward mash-up songs like "Juke Box Hero" smashed in with Joan Jett's "I Love Rock & Roll?" Other than the fact that both of those songs had the words "juke box" in the lyrics, what do the two have to do with each other?

And of course, purely from a musical standpoint, most of these songs do not really lend themselves to theatrical dance numbers.

Still, at least in parts, Rock of Ages is oddly entertaining. In fact, seeing the film makes me think the Broadway play would be great fun. The problem is what works on stage does not always work on screen. Without the confined setting of the stage, it gets a bit overblown and ridiculous.

For example, there is a huge dance sequence in the middle of the Sunset Strip Tower Records. I was in that store dozens of times and never saw anyone singing and dancing. (Kudos, though, on the great job of recreating that store years after it closed down.) Other odd song settings include the back of the Hollywood sign, a Greyhound bus, Venice Beach, and a strip club.

Also, Rock of Ages decided to give a bit part to a real singer – though oddly that was Mary J. Blige, an R&B singer, not a rocker. However, because she is there, the filmmakers feel the need to shoe-horn her into pretty much every musical performance, whether they involve her character or not. Still, at least Mary comes out looking better than hoofer-turned-movie star Catherine Zeta-Jones, who has the joke-butt role of the uptight rock-hating politico's wife who is a closet freak. (Take that Tipper Gore!)

Russell Brand works some terrific comic relief and Alec Baldwin has fun playing way against type as a disillusioned club owner. Cruise is suitably intense as an eccentric, sensation-addled rock star. It's a one-note performance, but a relatively entertaining one.

Rock of Ages is juggling so many styles and genres (plot wise as well as musically) that eventually it is inevitable that it will all come tumbling down. And fall it does, rather spectacularly. But even if Rock of Ages is a failure, in lots of ways it is kind of an interesting failure.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: June 15, 2012.


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