Posted by Buster the Administrator
by Steve Habrat
It is always great to see a musical on the big screen these days. Every once and a while, the genre has to resurface to show audiences that there is still life in that old dog yet. Now we have Rock of Ages, a heavy metal musical that promises to be “nothin’ but a good time.” I wish I could say that Rock of Ages is a good time but in actuality, it is a fairly choppy and inconsistent time with a flimsy story and too many characters left underdeveloped. Rock of Ages certainly gets the flamboyant glam rock appearance of 80’s hair metal correct, but for a musical that is fist pumping to rebellious 80’s sounds, the film is lacking the danger that is associated with genre. Everything here seems a little soft, especially our two leads that belt out beloved 80’s tunes that sound like watered down alternative covers. Rock of Ages plays things a little too safe for my tastes, refusing to let things get too out of hand or the bouncer will show up and toss you out on your ass. This is rock n’ roll on a three-drink limit and calling it a night at 11:00 p.m. It seems that Tom Cruise’s eager-to-rock Stacee Jaxx is the only one who showed up to really get this party started.
Rock of Ages begins in 1987, with small town girl Sherrie Christian (Played by Julianne Hough) traveling from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming a singer. She arrives on the sunset strip and bumps into Drew Boley (Played by Diego Boneta), a barback at the heavy metal club The Bourbon Room who dreams of becoming a rock star. The two immediately click and Drew ends up talking the cranky Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree (Played by Alec Baldwin) into giving Sherrie a job as a waitress. Meanwhile, Dennis and his right hand man Lonny (Played by Russell Brand) are trying to arrange a final farewell concert for Stacee Jaxx (Played by Tom Cruise) and his band Arsenal at The Bourbon Room, which would rake in enough dough to help Dennis out with unpaid taxes. On the other side of town, Mayor Mike Whitmore’s (Played by Bryan Cranston) ultra conservative and heavy metal hating wife Patricia Whitmore (Played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) discovers that The Bourbon Room has not paid taxes in quite some time. Along with several members of her church, she sets out to rid Los Angeles of The Bourbon Room and the rock n’ roll image that grips the city. Meanwhile, Sherrie and Drew are busy trying to make their dreams of becoming famous come true and in the process, they fall in love with each other.
Incredibly unfocused and messy, Rock of Ages can’t decide which plotline it wants to focus on. It jumps here and introduces a character there while failing to develop that character properly. Director Adam Shankman and his screenwriters Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo (who is responsible for the Broadway musical), and Allen Loeb try to make it all about Sherrie and Drew pursuing their dreams, but the young talents fail to really make us root for them. They are just pretty faces that are out of place in the sea of big hair and denim vests. The film largely ignores the plotline about the conservative Patricia trying to act as a wrecking ball to the heavy metal genre. I’m still trying to figure out how this plotline comments about the music scene today, especially when the most shocking thing in music right now is what kind of an outfit Lady GaGa will step out in next. Furthermore, the screenwriters were absolutely clueless about how to properly lead-in to a musical number, each one more forced than the last (and one of the screenwriters is responsible for the Broadway hit!). This may all be fun on the stage but it only works in small spurts on the big screen.
Rock of Ages tries to conceal the messy plotline with an ensemble cast of up-and-coming talent mixed with established faces, making things even bumpier than they already are. Julianne Hough has the looks but she just never works as a heavy metal fanatic who weakens in the knees for Stacee Jaxx. She looks like she would have been more interested in the rising boy band craze of the late 80’s rather than Jaxx, who faintly resembles bad-boy Axl Rose. When it comes to her voice, she has a decent enough coo but it wasn’t made for these head bangers. Her Sherrie (who dots the “I” in her name with a pink heart) is a little too sweet for this scene of puke, sweat, fishnets, and whiskey. Diego Boneta doesn’t fare much better, never once coming off believable when decked our in ripped jeans, work boots, and black t-shirts. Just like Hough’s Sherrie, Boneta’s Drew is a bit too soft for The Bourbon Room’s crowd. In a scene where he is supposedly upset with Sherrie, he takes to The Bourbon Room’s stage and awkwardly grunts that he “wants to rock!” Everyone watching him glances at each other while wearing a look of “Is this kid serious?!” I was wondering the same thing.
The supporting talent is largely wasted or pointless. Zeta-Jones as Patricia sizzles from time to time but the film practically forgets she is the antagonist. Paul Giamatti is in the mix as Stacee’s money hungry manager Paul Gill, who is more than willing to trim his new talent to fit the latest trends in the music industry. Baldwin and Brand are reduced to standing around and scratching their heads over how they are going to save The Bourbon Room and ranting on about how glorious rock n’ roll is. They are also present to serve as comic relief, most of which falls painfully flat. The sexy Malin Akerman shows up as frizzy-haired Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack, who wields the most sex appeal in Rock of Ages. She disappears just as quickly as she appears, which is a shame because she gets one of the film’s best moments with Cruise’s Stacee. Also present is Mary J. Blige as Justice Charlier, the manager of a strip joint who serves absolutely no purpose in the film whatsoever. The director and screenwriters ask us to care about her but we know nothing about her, which makes it extremely difficult. The best one here is Cruise as Stacee Jax, a rock legend who literally rises up from a sea of scantily clad women and booze. He steals the best lines, gets the best musical numbers, and shows the most depth of any character in this thing. Bravo, Cruise!
The musical numbers in Rock of Ages have clunky lead-ins but they do manage to be a bit of fun. The best is Cruise’s reflective and soaring “Wanted Dead or Alive”, which shakes the stadium walls and the dueling “We Built This City/ We’re Not Gonna Take It” at the finale. Rock of Ages quickly laughs off other musical genres—proudly declaring that rock n’ roll is here to stay while every other musical genre is nothing but a trend. Has rock n’ roll really gone anywhere? Is there any current threat to it out there that would justify this film hitting theaters now? I didn’t think so. In the end, Rock of Ages wants to be the ultimate party film of the summer, but it has nothing to celebrate. The best parties are built around something fun that justifies pounding shots of whiskey and waking up with a raging hangover. Rock of Ages is all glammed up for a party that wound down back in the 90’s.