I never thought I'd be asking for more '80s music, however Rock of Ages has forced me into doing just that as that's what the Broadway musical-inspired film needs. Instead of just the familiar '80s tunes, writers Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo (who wrote the original Broadway show) and Allan Loeb, and director Adam Shankman felt the need to include some of the most forehead-slapping, lame dialogue to be uttered onscreen. In between the classic rock songs, the filler dialogue brings Rock of Ages to a grinding near-halt, killing any momentum and throwing off the film's pace.
Had they given the audience more Def Leppard, Journey, whoever, and cut out all the silliness between the rock anthems, Rock of Ages would have been a killer tribute to head-banging. As it stands, it bores more than it scores.
It's 1987 and small town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) hops on the bus in Oklahoma and heads to LA to live out her dreams. She's cute and perky, fresh-faced and ready to conquer the world. But first she needs a job. Enter wannabe rocker, Drew (Diego Boneta). He spies Sherrie being mugged on the street right outside the Bourbon Room - the club where he works and where he hopes to start his own music career - and comes to her rescue. Soon, he's talking his boss, club owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), and Dennis' right-hand man, Lonny (Russell Brand), into giving her a job as a waitress, and voila! she's hired. Sherrie and her knight in shining armor look adorable together, so of course they start dating.
Meanwhile, rock god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) has committed to performing at the club which is on the verge of going under but could be saved if Jaxx delivers a sold-out show. Stacee Jaxx has a sleazeball manager (Paul Giamatti), a pet baboon named Hey Man (yes, that's the source of many, many jokes), and an oversized ego to go along with his massive drinking problem. The notoriously unreliable and indecipherable Jaxx is also about to be interviewed by Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Malin Akerman) about his upcoming career move (he's breaking away from his band and going solo).
At the same time all this is going on, newly elected Los Angeles mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his wife, Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), have made cleaning up the Sunset Strip a major thrust of their winning campaign. Patricia hates sex, drugs and rock and roll, and she rallies a group of uptight women to hit the streets in protest of Stacee Jaxx's performance at the Bourbon Room.
So, we've got Drew wanting to rock, Sherrie ready to spread her wings, Dennis trying to save his club from fanatics, Constance knocked for a loop by the irresistible sexiness of Stacee Jaxx, and Patricia Whitmore leading the charge to shut down the Bourbon Room and stamp out sex. Throw in a minor side-plot involving two long-time friends discovering they're attracted to each other, a mayor who likes to get spanked, a baboon who loves to destroy things, a business manager who oozes sleaze, and the arrival of Mary J Blige as the owner of a strip club who puts all her fellow actors to shame when she sings - and that's Rock of Ages. There's too much story without anything actually going on, which makes no sense.
Tom Cruise saunters onto the screen wearing ass-less chaps, some sort of bizarre codpiece, wild hair, sunglasses, and a fur coat over his tattooed chest. He's got the "I rock therefore I rule" attitude down, a mixture of Bret Michaels and Axl Rose but much, much sexier than either. Although it's impossible to ever forget it's Cruise playing this rock god, it's still entertaining to watch him deliver this intense - and often funny - performance. Plus, he apparently did his own singing, showing he's totally game for making a complete fool out of himself.
Not faring as well are all of the supporting players, led by Catherine Zeta-Jones as the crusading Tipper Gore-ish politician's wife. Zeta-Jones' character feels wedged into the plot, and it's not a comfortable fit. Cranston's totally wasted as the mayor, and even an actor as talented as Paul Giamatti can't make the manager role anything other than a one-dimensional caricature.
Fortunately, we've got Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand to come to the rescue. Baldwin and Brand could do with their spin-off from this, and Rock of Ages would have really rocked had half of the characters been left on the cutting room floor in lieu of more time with these two. Their exchanges represent the few times when the dialogue doesn't attempt to destroy the film, which leads me to believe a lot of what Brand utters could have been off-script.
And then we've got the young lovers: Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta). There relationship should have been the heart and soul of the film, but these characters are about as interesting as watching two hours of test patterns on TV. They're bland, boring, and as absolutely adorable as Hough is, her voice just isn't strong enough to carry off this role.
The Bottom Line:
Rock of Ages is Glee stuck in the '80s but with actors who aren't quite as talented at singing. It's too clean and neat for a rock film, and would have benefitted from more grittiness and sexual heat.
Cruise, Baldwin and Brand do help make two hours of '80s music enjoyable, but Rock of Ages is a real letdown whenever those three are off the screen. Yes, it's occasionally fun and some of the musical numbers do make you want to sing along, but the choreography isn't anything special and the staging is way too safe. Shankman didn't seem to want to take any risks, leaving Rock of Ages to flounder as neither a jump out of your seat explosion of classic rock or a sweet love story backed by familiar '80s songs. What we have here is a Rock of Ages that's just a soon to be forgotten, so-so musical.
Rock of Ages is flashy and filled with big-hair, bad fashion choices, and recognizable actors showing off their singing skills to varying levels of success. It's too bad the filmmakers didn't just let the music do all the talking.