Rock of Ages

Directed By: Adam Shankman

Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, Alec Baldwin, and Tom Cruise

As a musical aficionado and a child of the 80’s, I was naturally chosen to review the highly anticipated Rock of Ages.  I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the film.  I had heard that Tom Cruise was phenomenal, and the movie trailer showed a lot of rock music, partying and big hair. That is pretty much the film in a nutshell.

Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is a small town Oklahoma City girl who has arrived in Los Angeles with a suitcase full of rock records and a dream of making it big.  As she sings her way through the streets of Los Angeles, she is welcomed to the city by a street thug who steals her luggage.  Drew (Diego Boneta), a worker at the infamous hotspot The Bourbon Room, sees her misfortune and rushes to her aid.  In order to help Sherrie out, Drew convinces club owner Dennis (Alec Baldwin) to give Sherrie a job as a waitress at The Bourbon Room.  Sherrie and Drew have an instant connection and start dating and serenading each other as they rollerblade, swim and dance their way through life.

Meanwhile, Dennis has a few problems.  Rock music is not as popular as it used to be as pop and rap are taking over the airwaves.  Business is down, and he and his best “friend” Lonnie (Russell Brand) try to save the club.  In order to bring in business, Dennis somehow manages to get Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to perform his last concert with his band Arsenal at The Bourbon Room.  There is just one hitch—Stacee is unreliable, eccentric, and seemingly gliding through life in an alcohol-induced (and likely drugs as well) haze.  Stacee is struggling with finding a purpose in life and the true cost of fame.  On the verge of Stacee’s big solo outing, Rolling Stone reporter Constance (Malin Akerman) holds a mirror up to Stacee to force him to deal with the harsh fact that he has become a shadow of his former creative self.

To make matters worse for all of these rock music loving folks, newly elected Mayor Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his uptight wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) have promised to clean up the city—namely the strip.  Rock music is the devil’s music and they have every intention of shutting down The Bourbon Room and destroying Stacee Jaxx. 

Rock of Ages has its charms.  First and foremost, the music is its own character.  Once I controlled my initial instinct to roll my eyes when a random bus driver burst into song during the opening scene, I settled in for a spectacle that can only be described as Now That’s What I Call Music-1980’s Rock Edition.  Honestly, I’m not a huge rock music fan, but somehow I knew every song in the movie.  Songs like “I Wanna Rock,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Wanted Dead Or Alive,” And “Don’t Stop Believin’” are so embedded in movies, commercials, and American culture that you can’t help but sing along to some pretty fun mashups.

In addition, the seasoned vets in the cast are a joy to watch.  Tom Cruise shows once again why he is Tom Cruise.  He literally morphs into Brett Michaels/Axl Rose. With his chest out, pelvic thrusts, on stage strut and swagger, Cruise is on fire.  Cruise’s Stacee Jaxx mesmerizes in every scene—he is at times nonsensical, reflective, drunk, highly sexual and literally in his own world.  He is an incredibly compelling figure.  Catherine Zeta-Jones is also a delight to watch.  As the prudish mayor’s wife leading a group of Bible thumpers against rock music, Jones is back to her Chicago form.  Jones’ character is over the top, but there is such a light and a joy in her eyes when she sings and dances that you can’t help but enjoy her musical sequences.  (Former SYTYCD judge Mia Michaels choreographed some fun dance routines for Jones).
With that being said, I cannot give Rock of Ages a full-fledged endorsement.  Where Rock of Ages falters is its lack of depth.  While I enjoyed the nostalgic walk down Twisted Sister lane, I didn’t find the central love story between Drew and Sherrie to be terribly interesting.  I was more interested in Stacee Jaxx and he, unfortunately, was not the central focus of the film.  I found myself wishing for more of an in-depth edgy look at Jaxx’s character—a deeper look at the decline of an aging rock star.  That is more intriguing than the almost Disney version of 80’s rock that we get instead.
Moreover, Mary J. Blige as Justice, a strip club owner, was a total waste.  Her soulful voice added to the soundtrack, but her wooden performance and seemingly extraneous character did not add anything to the film.  Similarly, while Alec Baldwin added his trademark hilarious one-liners to the film, he was not entirely convincing in his role.  I just did not buy what he was selling with his love story and it just came across as a little cheesy.
Overall, I enjoyed the music, and the stellar performances from Cruise and Zeta-Jones.  For those reasons alone, I have to give this a 0.06% rating.  However, for Rock of Ages to really compete with other classic musicals, there needed to be more depth and more than just one rock hit after another.