Rock of Ages

© 2012 Ray Wong

Rock of Ages is an interesting kind of musical: it is low-brow and it aims to please the mass audience by using hit songs as its soundtrack. And yet within this context, the movie works on some levels and doesn't on others.

Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is a small town girl from Oklahoma who dreams of being a singer in Los Angeles. She finally makes the move and arrives in LA, only to have her belongings stolen. A nice young man, Drew (Diego Boneta), comes to her rescue and helps her get a job at the nightclub where he works. The club is owned by Dennis (Alec Baldwin), an aging rocker who's staging his comeback by booking Rock 'n' Roll superstar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) for a one-night-only gig.

Stacee Jaxx turns out to be a complete jerk messed up with drugs and booze. Still, he is THE Stacee Jaxx. Everyone is letting him get his way, except Rolling Stones reporter Constance (Malin Akerman), who despite her attraction to Stacee Jaxx refuses to play nice with her interview. Meanwhile, mayoral candidate Mike Whitmore is campaigning on a conservative agenda, and his wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is launching a full assault on Stacee Jaxx in the name of cleaning up LA and protecting the children.

Of course, Sherrie and Drew fall in love with each other. When talented Drew is on the verge of getting discovered by Stacee Jaxx's oily manager (Paul Giamatti), a misunderstanding keeps Sherrie and Drew apart. Will their young love survive? Will Dennis save his business? Will Stacee Jaxx sober up and save his career? Will the Whitmores succeed?

Julianne Hough (Footloose) is no stranger to musicals. As the naive girl with huge 80s hair, Hough is sweet and cute. Her performance is somewhat light and her voice is slight. But she has great chemistry with Diego Boneta (90210) who is making his film debut, here. Boneta has a strong pop voice (probably a bit slight for rock n roll) and does an amiable job as the lovestruck musician.

The movie belongs to the veteran actors, however. Alec Baldwin (To Rome with Love) is groovy as the aging rocker-turn-bar owner. His performance is breezy and lovable. Russell Brand (Arthur) is energetic and fun-loving as Baldwin's righthand man. Bryan Cranston (John Carter) hams it up for the role of the conservative mayoral candidate, while Catherine Zeta-Jones (No Reservation) goes all out with her vindictive character. Paul Giamatti (The Ides of March) is suitably slimy, and Malin Akerman (Wanderlust) does a good job switching between lust and disgust as the reporter.

Of course, the standout here is superstar Tom Cruise himself as superstar Stacee Jaxx. Cruise completely embodies the washed-out rocker physically, mentally and vocally. He owns every scene.

Adapted from the hit musical by Chris D'Arenzo, with co-writers Justin Theroux (Iron Man 2) and Allan Loeb (The Dilemma), the screenplay is probably the weakest link in the film. The predictable and cliched story may have worked on Broadway, but it fares less favorably as a movie. At the core it's a love story two small-town dreamers in a big city. Where have we seen this done before? Oh, as recently as yet another musical called Burlesque (in which Julianne Hough costarred). Everything from the characters to the plot and dialogue is cliched and one-dimensional.

Don't get me wrong, though. The familiarity eventually works for the movie in a campy, outrageous way as this is a broad comedy with 80s' hit songs as the soundtrack. And let's talk about the soundtrack, which is what this MUSICAL is all about. If you grew up or lived through the 80s, you would be familiar with the songs, which work extremely well in the context of the plot. The rock anthems and the love ballads fit seamlessly and they are great crowd pleasers. The soundtrack alone (even if it's auto-tuned) is worth the price of the admission.

Director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) didn't set out to make high art. He wanted to make a campy, rousing musical set in the campy, rousing era of the 1980s. With that in mind, I think he has mostly succeeded. The musical is all about huge hair, huge sets, huge sounds and a huge cast. It's a crowd pleaser and boy, does it please. It rocks!

Stars: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Malin Akerman
Director: Adam Shankman
Writers: Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arenzo, Allan Loeb (based on musical by Chris D'Arenzo)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, heavy drinking, and language
Running Time: 123 minutes 

Script - 6
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 10
Editing - 7
Production - 8
Total - 7.5 out of 10.0 

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