A movie based on a Broadway musical based on the music of the 1980’s. Welcome to Rock of Ages. Set in Hollywood circa 1987, Rock of Ages is the new big budget theatrical adaptation brought to us by director Adam Shankman who spun John Travolta in Hairspray to a $200 million gross back in 2007. For this adventure which features countless songs and ballads from the hair bands of the 80’s (and one from the 90’s), Shankman recruited a star studded cast including Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Russell Brand and Tom Cruise (yes, THAT Tom Cruise).
The story surrounds the budding relationship between Drew (Diego Boneta), a wannabe singer that with a bad case of stage fright, and Sherrie (Julianne Hough) a small town girl who moves to Los Angeles looking to get her big break. The two meet and immediately fall in love with their romance maturing at the Bourbon bar owned by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin). Dennis is struggling to keep the bar and stage operational. His lapse in paying taxes and the persistent objective of the Mayor’s wife (Zeta-Jones) looking to clean up the neighbourhood by forcing closed The Bourbon forces Dupree to put his hopes on a solo concert by rock legend Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to help turn his fortunes around.
And all of the love, the politics, the struggles and the resolve will be force fed to audiences via a soundtrack that will take any 35+ year old down memory lane with tracks from Pat Benetar, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Warrant, Poison and just about every other hair metal band that was throwing out rock/pop hits during the 1980’s.
The majority of the songs are sung by the acting performers (there are a few that play in the background on certain scenes that are originals) with the cast more than holding their own either through a surprising vocal range (we are talking about you, Mr. Cruise) and/or the assistance of the post production sound studio assistance. The result was a mixed bag of toe tapping tunes that went from the really good (Tom Cruise belting Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive and Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me) to the not so great (Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin’s attempt at humor with REO Speedwagon’s I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore). Mary J. Blige is the one true vocal star who lends her chops to the ensemble and her scenes and rifs during musical montages were by far the most experienced.
Shankman tries his best to squeeze as many familiar songs into the 127-minute running time as possible including four songs that get crossed off his to-do list before the opening credits finish their dissolve. When the tunes are being belted out by a cast that all seem to be really enjoying themselves despite their vocal ranges, the film is nothing but a good time. But when the music stops and we are reminded that there is a spine of a story which connects all the musical dots, the film bends to a point of snapping thanks to the flimsy screenplay by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo and Allan Loeb. There is very little chemistry between any of the characters and the dramatic moments are just a means to a end to get to the next musical track.
Surprisingly, Cruise comes out of the experience unscathed. Much as made of his involvement with the project with many (including myself) skeptical that Cruise could pull off the pivotal role as the heavy booze and womanizing rockstar Jaxx. But Cruise absorbs the role and even when he is pretending Milan Ackerman’s panty clad ass is a microphone while he belts out a Foreigner tune, he again shows us why he is one of the most underrated working actors today as you will completely forget that behind the black mascara and silver codpiece is an Oprah couch jumping superstar that swears by his Scientology religious beliefs.
There is so much story (or attempts at a story) in Rock of Ages as a blatant excuse for musical track inclusions that the film zigzags audiences from Churches to strip joints, from the Mayor’s office to the Hollywood sign. The Catherine Zeta-Jones character wasn’t even in the original Broadway production but was included both to get Zeta-Jones back in a musical (she received an Oscar for Chicago in 2002) and have song such as Benetar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot squeezed onto the Songs From the Major Motion Picture CD that was released last week.
The overall result is a film with plenty of music about love, but not a lot of heart. The music is all too familiar and there is plenty of humor – most of it unintentional – but the movie fails to match the good times presented in the songs adorning the soundtrack. It was a good time, but not a great time. And more than appreciating the songs presented in Glee-type flashiness, I was yearning to go back into my original album collection and list to the songs how they were originally intended.