“Are you ready for a good time!?”
When AC/DC first asked the question in 1990 (after the 80’s had officially ended and real joy could be had), the response was immediate. “Hell, yes,” and the crowd roared. The response Rock of Ages gets with its star-soaked pop song pretext of music and “safe” metal mayhem is a muted one at best. Good times? Keep looking, folks. That “good time” promised here is full of fits and starts in an overlong and relatively non-headbanging affair.
Belonging to the “jukebox musical” category of the genre, Rock of Ages takes its cue to entertain from Poison’s “Nothing But a Good Time” hit but fails to deliver. Call it celebrity karaoke because - jam-packed with over used radio friendly pop songs that don’t organically grow from the script – the film reads more like one long meandering music video. Strengthened only by a thundering performance from Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, a cross-between Poison frontman Bret Michaels and The Doors’ own Jim Morrison, Rock of Ages is largely a joyless affair spread out across a running time that is seems like an eternity.
The '80s hair metal and overstuffed L.A. rock scene from my youth begs for fun parody and cinematic cheese yet, somehow, director Adam Shankman (director of 2007’s Hairspray) drains most of the fun from the wank rag in a doctored script that doesn’t handle the humor of both the songs and the characters.
The MTV nostalgia-driven and mascara heavy script – co-written by Chris D'Arienzo, Justin Theroux, and Allan Loeb – eventually finds its way with a rocked and rolled over love story set inside the fictional Bourbon Room (a stand-in for The Whiskey a Go Go) when starry-eyed Sherrie (Julianne Hough) arrives from Tulsa and meets scrappy rocker Drew (Diego Boneta). They are destined for each other. No doubt. It’s 1987 and the sky is the limit for these two Journey-bound dreamers.
If it sounds like High School Musical, it should. This storyline is your anchor. Sure, the film boot and scoots all over the place with a cast of colorful characters that include mayor Whitmore (a misused Bryan Cranston), crusading wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones as Tipper Gore), owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), Jaxx’s unscrupulous manager (Paul Giamatti), a confrontational female Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman), and Russel Brand as a club technician. It remains grounded, however, by the saga of Sherrie and Drew. Keep in mind – while we are trying to focus on the boy meets and then loses and finally wins back girl story – all these characters are in play and are handled (or sidelined) by endless musical montages that become obvious shoehorned duets just so you don’t forget about them.
The name-dropping cast sounds like they should be on fire and they certainly have fun with the late 80’s inspired wardrobe but - while Zeta-Jones and Giamatti look the part – they are poorly used with little sprinklings throughout an inconsistent yet hammed-up script. Perhaps the best lines come from Baldwin, who shows his slick 30 Rock comic timing from time-to-time, and his REO Speedwagon-themed interactions with Brand (who also shines from time to time as a lighter version of his Get Him to the Greek character).
Largely missing from the first third of the movie is Cruise. The cast has built Stacee Jaxx up with their endless praise about his rock star attitude and his pet monkey (named Hey Man) and, upon arrival, Cruise delivers the energy gone missing from the film. It’s a bravado full-throttled performance, but – to be honest – Jaxx overextends his once welcomed stay. Imagine Les Grossman (Cruise’s Tropic Thunder part) with his own movie. Too much, I know and, without a powerhouse of a fully engaged cast, would never work.
With this part – like Mary J. Blige turning up as Justice – a little Jaxx goes a long, long way. One seriously great showcase number – Cruise belting Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” - would have sufficed. Instead, we get a whole truckload of Stacee Jaxx numbers. This role, at its best, is – on paper - an extended cameo, but Shankman treats it as the second coming of a tattooed Christ figure. These Jaxx-helmed songs do nothing to advance the story and only saddle the movie with an exhausting running time that only completely tells one simple simonized love story and half-asses another.
Fans of Nickelback, American Idol, and those youngsters who mistake the actual L.A. scene for the music video “Welcome to the Jungle” by GNR will probably be entertained by Shankman’s take on 1987. All others should avoid this hot mess or, like me, take it with a grain of salt.
MTV killed the radio star, baby. Rock of Ages, hollowly, proves why.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language.
Director: Adam Shankman
Writer: Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo
Cast: Diego Boneta; Julianne Hough; Tom Cruise; Alec Baldwin; Russell Brand; Bryan Cranston
Genre: Musical | Comedy
Tagline: Rock of Ages
Memorable Movie Quote: "This place is about to become a sea of sweat, ear-shattering music and puke."
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Official Site: rockofagesmovie.warnerbros.com
Release Date: June 14, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: Rock of Ages tells the story of small town girl Sherrie and city boy Drew, who meet on the Sunset Strip while pursuing their Hollywood dreams. Their rock 'n' roll romance is told through the heart-pounding hits of Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Whitesnake, and more.