I’m a huge fan of 80’s rock, not to mention musicals in general. Throw a free movie ticket into the mix (one I had to use relatively quickly) and “Rock of Ages” was the logical choice. I’m not quite sure what I expected going in – the raucous trailers promised a celebration of exuberant hedonism, but subsequent reviews hinted at a deeper subtext.
The verdict? If you’re a fan of the music, it’s worth watching (at least on DVD). Everyone else will likely want to take a pass.
It’s probably worth mentioning up front that the story is paper-thin, and little more than a conduit for the epic soundtrack. Young Oklahoman Sherrie arrives in 1987 Hollywood, hoping to strike it big as a singer. Her first night in the city, she meets rock star wannabe Drew (Diego Boneta) and they immediately fall in love. Drew finds her a job working at the Bourbon Club, the city’s premier rock venue.
On the other side of the microphone, aging star Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) makes plans to dissolve his band (“Arsenal”) and pursue a solo career. He quickly runs into trouble, however – in the form of Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the mayor’s crusading wife, who hopes to abolish rock-and-roll. Meanwhile, a series of combative encounters with a Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman) catalyzes Jaxx to question his hedonistic lifestyle.
It’s a lot of plotlines crammed into one movie. Though the story isn’t particularly difficult to follow, none of the threads really get the development they deserve. A-list actors pop in and out of the plot, some lasting long than others. As a result, the film ends up feeling rather fragmented…though things do coalesce towards the end.
But it’s fair to say that almost no one goes to see a musical for the depth of its storyline. The music is the real centerpiece here – and it’s pretty good.
Cruise is absolutely mesmerizing as Jaxx. It’s hard to overemphasize the significance of his contribution to this movie – Jaxx steals every scene he’s in, and the movie only starts to drag when the camera turns away. Cruise fully loses himself in his role, channeling Axl Rose and a host of other hair-metal legends. Most remarkably, Cruise infuses Jaxx with a fierce humanity – jaded though he may be, he longs for an escape from the hollow lifestyle he’s embraced for years. Onstage, his takes on Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” are explosive, fist-pumping renditions that dominate the film.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the two young leads. Hough is easy on the eyes, but not on the ears – her voice sounds thin and reedy throughout (particularly in a number requiring her to sing opposite Mary J. Blige). Her take on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is far inferior to Lea Michele’s (of “Glee” fame). As for Boneta, he turns in one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture (compared to Boneta, Sam Worthington and Kristen Stewart seem like Laurence Olivier and Meryl Streep). His lines are delivered with all the conviction of a fence post, and he seems to have been cast purely for his ability to look soulful. Though his voice isn’t as bad as Hough’s, it doesn’t do the classic songs justice.
The supporting cast, happily, is strong: Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin are surprisingly great as co-owners of the Bourbon Lounge (and their cover of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” is a hoot). Zeta-Jones is obviously overacting her part, but it’s forgivable (her performances of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” aren’t half bad).
Objectionable content…well, if you’ve seen the trailer, you have a pretty good idea of what’s in this movie. This is the age of “sex and drugs and rock-and-roll” – and while the second doesn’t turn up, the film has plenty of the other two. Things get rather sordid at times, including a couple of risqué scenes that push the PG-13 rating. That being said, a lot of the “seedy” content is too over-the-top (almost parodic at times) to be seriously offensive.
There isn’t much to comment on in the worldview arena – other than Jaxx’s laudable acknowledgment that there’s more to life than depravity. Attempting to read anything else into the film is a pointless exercise.
Is it worth watching?
If you really like the music, “Rock of Ages” is a must-see. The story of “young love” is terribly executed, but Cruise’s magnificent performance makes up for it. Those who are ambivalent (or can’t stand this genre) won’t have much fun. It’s certainly not a classic-to-be, but it’s entertaining enough.
More character depth, please. Less teen melodrama.
Normalized Score: 2.4