Rock of Ages
By Mark Sells
June 15, 2012
Mark Sells is a nationally recognized film and entertainment journalist for The Reel Deal. In addition to RELEVANT magazine, he has contributed to The Oregon Herald, MovieMaker Magazine, Moving Pictures, 303, Denver Life and Film International and can be heard weekly on 100.3 FM The Sound (Los Angeles), providing the latest in movie news and reviews. Check out The Reel Deal on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
Gunter glieben glauchen globen. Based on the Tony nominated Broadway hit musical, Rock of Ages is a juke box mash up - part musical, part comedy, and part rock concert. It follows the story of two star-crossed lovers – a wanna be rocker named Drew Boley who works as a busboy at a Hollywood night club where he meets Sherrie Christian, a small town aspiring actress. Together, the two pursue their romance and dreams in the big city. With a playful, all-star cast that includes Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and more, Rock of Ages is pure ‘80s nostalgia. Featuring covers of everyone from Bon Jovi to Whitesnake, Night Ranger to Twisted Sister, the film pulsates between power ballads and fist pumping anthems. In between, there’s not a lot of depth or originality. And as mindless satire that it is, it won’t stop legions of fans from believin’ in the power of rock n’ roll.
The year is 1987 and Sherrie hops on a bus from Tulsa to Los Angeles in the hopes of becoming an actress. Immediately following her arrival, she discovers her record collection and luggage have been stolen. Witnessing all of this, a busboy working at a local bar called the Bourbon Room, takes her in and gets her a job as a waitress. Like Sherrie, Drew Boley dreams of stardom, hoping to one day become a famous musician. And together, the two share in their ambitions as their romance blossoms.
Meanwhile, at the Bourbon Room, club owner Dennis Dupree finds himself under tremendous pressure. For one, he owes the government a ton of money in back taxes. And second, the mayor’s ultra conservative wife, Patricia Whitman, has launched a campaign to clean up the strip, shut him down and remove any traces of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. Dupree’s salvation rides entirely on Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), an aging rock n’ roll superstar who is at a musical crossroads. Dupree hopes Jaxx will put on one more show at the Bourbon to save the club, but he must first negotiate with Jaxx’s money hungry manager.
All of these stories come together musically as dreams and romance are put to the ultimate test.
Directed by famed choreographer, Adam Shankman (Hairspray), Rock of Ages, has great potential, but sees its energy dissipate shortly after the opening number. Even for fans of the music, the film comes across as an unbalanced collection of music videos. On one hand, the musical numbers are bright and energetic. And on the other, the story elements between songs are bland, repetitive, and boring.
The cast, led by Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Alec Baldwin, and Catherine Zeta-Jones all put on a valiant effort, decked out in ‘80s tattoos, big hair, and glitter. And a few actually surprise with their vocal abilities; Cruise, in particular, embodies the look and the movement of Axl Rose with the mystery and sex appeal of Jim Morrison. He seamlessly shifts gears between true grit (“Wanted Dead or Alive”) and sensitivity (“I Want to Know What Love Is.”)
Similar to his character Frank Mackey in Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant mosaic, Magnolia, Tom Cruise plays a larger than life character with a lot of talk, a lot of swagger and a vulnerable interior. As Stacee Jaxx, he has seen it all as a rock legend; however, faces an important crossroads in life and love. Especially after meeting Rolling Stones’ reporter, Constance Sack. It’s as if he’s looked into the abyss and seen the end of rock n’ roll.
This is by far the strongest and most intriguing part of the film; yet, it’s weirdly out of place. As the other characters shift back and forth between straight and parody, Cruise plays for keeps.
Even though there are a handful of comedic moments, like an unforgettable duet between Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand (“Can’t Fight This Feeling”), the film grows tiresome from cliché to cliché. There’s the chance encounter that leads to romance, big dreams, and a tragic misunderstanding; the conflict that includes a right winged conservative group leading the charge against the morality of rock n’ roll; and of course, the fairy tale ending and reunion that wouldn’t be complete without a Glee-esque rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
For all its decadence and star power, Rock of Ages disappoints. Yes, the production aesthetic is colorful, the musicality is strong, the cheesiness is in full effect, and Tom Cruise delivers, but the rest of the film is forgettable, filled with overused dialogue and scenes merely serving up the next song. Rather than taking a chance, the film is content presenting a collection of cover songs instead of presenting a strong story with songs to supplement. As a result, it whittles away some of the the good times from the rock n’ roll.