Rock of Ages (2012)

Nothin’ But A Good Time

After the substantial worldwide success of director Adam Shankman’s musical hit Hairspray (2007), it was only a matter of time until Shankman translated another beloved musical to the silver screen. His next project, Rock of Ages, adapted from the 2006 Chris D’Arienzo rock jukebox Broadway musical of the same name, was bound to be a sure-fire hit adaptation, at least on paper.

While the Broadway musical was a major success due to its light heartedness, comedic tone and catchy rock tunes, the film adaption was fighting an up-hill battle from the get-go as the fuel-charged emotion from watching this sort of show at a sold out arena was always going to be difficult to translate to film.

It’s 1987 and Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) arrives in Los Angeles from her hometown of Oklahoma with dreams of becoming a famous singer. Meanwhile, barback Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) prepares for another night of work at the rock ‘n’ roll club The Bourbon Room. As Sherrie approaches The Bourbon, her suitcase is stolen; witnessing the incident Drew tries to catch the robber, but fails. He comforts Sherrie and, upon learning of her situation, gets her a job at the Bourbon Room as a waitress. The pair connects instantly and it’s love at first sight for the star-crossed couple. While things seem to be going well for the pair, The Bourbon club’s owner, Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), and his partner, Lonny Barnett, (Russell Brand), are trying to find a way to deal with their debts which could ultimately force them to shut down the venue; if only their love of rock ‘n’ roll could keep it alive.

Tom, what's your secret? What moisturizer do you use?
Tom, what’s your secret? What moisturizer do you use?

In order to save the club, Dennis Dupree enlists help from the enigmatic but unreliable rock God Stacie Jaxx (Tom Cruise) and his group Arsenal to save the venue in their final on-stage performance together. When the opening act pulls out of the line-up, Drew and his band must start the show instead. A fellow waitress warns Sherrie that, once Drew tastes the spotlight, he’ll forget about her, and through a misunderstanding, Drew assumes Jaxx and Sherrie made love, causing him to reject Sherrie once he gets off stage. From that point on, the pair’s lives take different turns; Sherrie quits the Bourbon, and struggling for cash, attempts several jobs before ending up as a pole dancer. Drew, on the other hand, is signed up by Jaxx’s manager, Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti), but when PR claims that rock music as outdated, he is persuaded to join a boy band instead. Will Sherrie and Drew ever reunite? Will the pair’s romance survive these tough trials? Who really cares!

Unfortunately, Rock of Ages doesn’t really get much right, but let’s start off with the film’s few positives. Tom Cruise, Mission Impossible (2006), who seems to be getting younger with each passing film, is at his crazed best here and steals the limelight with his over-the-top performance as Stacie Jaxx; director Shankman called Cruise’s performance a ‘brilliant mash up of Axl Rose, Keith Richards and Jim Morrison,’ which couldn’t be closer to the truth. Malin Akerman, Watchmen (2009), is a welcome addition to the film as Rolling Stone writer Constance Sack, who arrives at The Bourbon to interview Jaxx, but her role is short-lived due to the film’s assortment of unnecessary secondary players. Lastly Alec Baldwin, The Departed (2006), tries his best to elevate the picture as Dennis Dupree, as does Paul Giamatti, Sideways (2004), as Jaxx’s sleazy manager, but once again, the actor’s great work is overshadowed by the film’s bloated cast and cluttered narrative.

Both leads Julianne Hough, Footloose (2011), and Diego Boneta from television’s 90210 are utterly forgettable and outshone by the picture’s secondary players, while Catherine Zeta Jones, destroys her previous great work from the musical Chicago (2002), in an downright unattractive role as Patricia Whitmore, the wife of the new mayor who rallies do-gooders to clean up The Strip by shutting down the Bourbon club and Stacie Jaxx in particular. Lastly, Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston is completely wasted as Mayor Whitmore and has nothing particularly exiting to do here, hell, Stacie Jaxx’s monkey has more screen time!

Julianne Hough seems to think she's making the sequel to 'There's Something About Mary'.
Julianne Hough seems to think she’s making the sequel to ‘There’s Something About Mary’.

The film’s screenplay, penned by Justin Theroux, Allan Loeb and Chris D’Arienzo tries to do too much at once and has very little focus, jumping from one redundant side plot to another while completely losing the film’s fundamental story as it often makes unwarranted changes from the 2006 musical of the same name. The picture’s run time also suffers due to the overstuffed narrative making this a difficult sit through for anyone; even die-hard musical fans might find themselves checking their watch by the film’s third act.

What about the songs? Surely they must be fun? While some tracks are catchy, most come off as armature karaoke rip-offs, one would much rather listen to the original hits as several numbers are totally butchered, particularly, a favorite of mine, REO Speedwagon’s ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling,’ is destroyed in an embarrassing duet between Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, Get Him To The Greek (2010); if only certain things could be unseen. It’s clear that the musical’s plot was written around the songs making some numbers feel forced while changing the meaning of other tracks, it’s unlikely rock fans in particular will be pleased with any of these renditions.

With it’s muddled narrative, overstuffed cast and excessively long running time, it’s highly improbable musical junkies, 80’s rock connoisseurs or metal lovers will be singing ‘We Built This City,’ after seeing Rock of Ages, but instead might be shouting ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It.’

2 / 5 – Average

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Rock of Ages is released through Warner Bros. Home Entertainment