By Dirk Sonniksen | June 14, 2012
Director: Adam Shankman
Writer(s): Justin Theroux (screenplay), Chris D’Arienzo (screenplay, musical book), Allan Loeb (screenplay)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Alec Balwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones
I thought I had put down the demon in my head, but alas, it resurfaces. I lay in bed, sweating and softly singing, “More thaaan worrrrdssss,” or perhaps I’m showering when quite unexpectedly I belt out, “You’re motorin’!” Just when I had steered clear of my late 80s/very early 90s miasma, the likes of Extreme, Night Ranger, Foreigner, and Poison rear their ugly heads once again, this time with Tom Cruise as a drunk, aging, rock star, overlapping my already horrible dreams of hair bands and classic wienie rock.
The music that vexed me so was first reincarnated as a Broadway musical, and has now been brought to the big screen by director Adam Shankman. Rock of Ages is a film that plays off the paper-thin themes of the aforementioned wienie rock: We have our small town girl, Sherrie (Julianne Hough)—she’s livin’ in a lonely world. Then there’s Drew (Diego Boneta), he’s a city boy (go ahead, start singing…), and he works at a bar, and oh, he’s a musician. He meets Sherrie as she arrives in Los Angeles, and yes, he gets her a job at the bar, and they fall in love. They also sing to each other a lot, and it gets more annoying as Rock of Ages progresses.
Cut to Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), the biggest rock star of all time, whose ostentatious dress code is surpassed only by the number of empty scotch bottles left in his wake as he swaggers from woman to woman, leaving them dumbstruck by his awesomeness. Jaxx is set to perform at The Bourbon Room, the den of iniquity that houses Drew and Sherrie, and its owner Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and his hanger-on Lonny (Russell Brand). The Bourbon Room is the place to see rock ‘n’ roll music in LA, and the young gravitate to this party palace like glo-sticks and Gatorade to a rave. But Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the mayor’s wife, is on mission to close The Bourbon Room and end this heathen living for good.
The most irksome issue with Rock of Ages was not the music, nor the acting, but the humor—or rather the lack of it. Rock of Ages could have been a really funny movie had they hired an additional writer with a bit of fun in his toolbox. Instead, the laughs are presented as cute, and cute and funny almost never work in this situation. I like cute-funny when there is a really big, oafish dog (who doesn’t talk) in the movie, and he knocks stuff off the kitchen counter, and then saves the entire city from aliens. Unfortunately, there were no dogs in this film…or aliens.
The best actor award goes to Tom Cruise; he does an outstanding job of playing a wasted, godlike rocker. From the moment we see him step out of the limo with his pet monkey Heyman (the second best actor in the film), we know he’s going to do the genre justice. Cruise is fantastic singing in his really strange, high-pitched Tom Cruise voice, and possesses all the moves of a seasoned front man. Julianne Hough plays Sherrie like it was meant for her. She’s pretty, somewhat shy, naïve, and…cute. I knew not of Ms. Hough until this film, because I don’t listen to country music or watch Dancing with the Stars, unless I’m having a beer at a fern bar. I had high hopes for Alec Baldwin, but his character fell flat; Baldwin did his best to recite the lines he was given, but he could not breathe life into this beast. Russell Brand pulls out the only edgy humor, but like Baldwin, it’s canned, and not enough to save the remainder of Rock of Ages.
The music in Rock of Ages is everything you are embarrassed to admit you liked growing up. It’s nostalgia, but it’s music that isn’t strong enough to carry an entire film. To give credit where it is due, the actors that performed musical numbers in the film, did so quite well. Rock of Ages fell apart for me because it was just another movie propped up by the initial premise (rock ‘n’ roll), with the remainder of the story left to rot somewhere off set. Rock of Ages the movie could have been so much better with some quality writing from some folks that know how to do comedy, and there are lots of them out there. I would like to thank the director for plugging Night Ranger into my internal headset for the next three weeks. If Adam Shankman does another musical with, say, The Damn Yankees, and I have to review it? I’m taking “the midnight train” to LA, and we’re going to have a talk.
Rating: 4 of 10