ROCK OF AGES Review

Going into Rock of Ages my main concern was how the makers were going to take a format such as the musical and successfully mix it with a culture that seemed completely opposite what is considered a higher class art form. The funny thing about these two things though is that 80's rock can match the glitz and glam of Broadway musicals step for step. It may represent a stronger form of rebellion while the musicals of the stage are filled with more finesse but these two very distinct brands of entertainment compliment each other well enough for this experiment in the strange to be called a success. I had not previously heard of the hit stage show before reading that Hairspray director Adam Shankman would be at the helm of turning it into a feature. I went into 2007's Hairspray expecting to hate it. It looked campy and cheesy despite featuring a star-studded cast. I came out having loved every minute of it though and so when the first trailers for Rock of Ages came out and it looked like Shankman had done the same for the 80's as he'd done to the 60's I was excited to say the least. While Rock of Ages doesn't carry that same wonderfully bright and bouncy feel of Hairspray, it is just as unabashed and unapologetic about what it is. The main issue with the film is that it builds itself around two less capable stars whose relationship we don't really end up caring about. I would have rather seen Stacee Jaxx: The Movie than to have taken side steps for Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta's characters. Stacee Jaxx is where it's at and if you see the movie for any reason, see it for Mr. Cruise. Even now, as I write this review I have my Pandora station set to 80's rock.

Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta)
have a meet-cute in Tower Records.
The film starts out in the most promising and epically cheesy of ways as Hough's Sherrie (no, they didn't use Steve Perry's "Oh Sherrie" from '84 which really bummed me out) is on her way to the big city of Hollywood. Departing her small town Oklahoma roots she has big dreams and intends on giving them her best shot. The musical numbers waste no time showing up as Hough belts out Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" and is joined by her fellow travelers as the chorus kicks in. It is so gloriously ridiculous the movie seems to be heading nowhere but up. Sherrie arrives on the sunset strip and is quickly mugged, her favorite records stolen, but is rescued from the streets by an employee at the famous Bourbon Room named Drew (Boneta). Drew is of course an aspiring singer as well and it is clear after the five minutes into the film that these two are predestined to be together. Drew sets Sherrie up with a job at the Bourbon Room which is under the management of Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his quirky British sidekick played energetically by Russell Brand. The Bourbon is in trouble as it hasn't paid taxes in over a year and is counting on a show by the one and only Stacee Jaxx to bring them out of the black. As an Axl Rose type, Stacee Jaxx has become more famous for his strange behavior and off-stage antics than the music that first made him the rock God figure he now so depressingly bathes in. There is a great if not rather typical side story that concerns the hypocritical mayor of Los Angeles (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who plan to clean up the strip which entails doing musical numbers to Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" with the local church ladies. Zeta-Jones goes over-the-top in every aspect of her performance while pulling out her experience in the field to create one of the better choreographed numbers. Paul Giamatti shows up as Stacee's manager Paul Gill and gives a slick and sleazy, if not reliable performance. It is clear he, along with lighter supporting cast members Mary J. Blige and Malin Akerman are just having a blast here.

Constance (Malin Akerman) sparks something in Stacee
Jaxx (Tom Cruise) that he hasn't felt in a while...
While Hough has not yet proved herself in film outside the realm of those that are heavily influenced by music I thought she did rather well in the Footloose remake and expected more from her here. This was a starring role in a big summer musical, it was basically tailored for her and while her performance is certainly passable, even heartfelt in certain moments, it just doesn't fit the tone of the overall film. Worse off is newcomer Boneta who handles his singing duties with ease but embodies them awkwardly and feels stilted when he has to deliver dialogue for more than a few moments. For acting as the core of the film, their romance fizzles quickly. In fact, as soon as we set our eyes toward the mystery that is Stacee Jaxx we have completely forgotten about the young, naive, leads who are taking it all way too seriously. Cruise expands his filmography and his list of versatile characters by not only being featured in a musical but by stealing every scene he steps into. He plays the reclusive rock star with an edge that is not so easily seen past. He plays up the stereotypes of the character while delivering a subtle undercurrent of a jaded human being that has become disenchanted with the life he is living and yearns for something more simple. It takes Constance, a reporter from Rolling Stone, to lift the curtain on what he has become and motivate the rocker to return to form. As played by Akerman, Constance is a lively fan girl who tries her best to contain the excitement she holds for meeting Jaxx. She is a super fan who wants to see the man that made her love music in the first place become what she knows he could be. That is the story Shankman and crew should have focused on if they were decided to cast such wonderful supporting players with weaker leads.

Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonnie (Russell Brand) are
inseparable and love the Rock N' Roll lifestyle.
What is best about the whole project though is that the older, supporting members of the ensemble do realize the campiness with which they are playing. Shankman does well to capture this wink and nod tone to the audience. They aren't taking this all too seriously and neither should we. If anything, the movie is simply an exercise in nostalgia. Screenwriters Chris D'Arienzo and Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) have re-worked the script to nicely tell a classic boy meets girl story through a collection of songs from the era where men wore just as much make-up as the women they were singing to. I wish the songs used in the film might have dug deeper into the era it was representing rather than relying so heavily on such standards, but I understand it. More kids today will know Joan Jett than they will Foreigner, but at least the oddly fascinating trip had the sense to go out on a blazing, belting , pile of Journey and their countless arena rock anthems. I would have also preferred it had the story been a little more coherent. It wanders a bit in the second act and only finds its footing because again, Stacee Jaxx and his influential past shows up to set things right. I don't mind Mary J. but I don't really know why she is here. I would have liked for the overall feel of the film to be less flashy and more gritty, you know kind of like the musical style it is representing, but then again we likely wouldn't have had Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin singing "I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore" to one another either. It's hard to speak negatively about a film that doesn't mean any harm, especially when it is as fun as this one. Though it has its fair share of faults, Rock of Ages is pure pleasure and there is no reason you shouldn't let your guard down and give into the music.