'Rock of Ages' isn't rollicking
Posted June 14, 2012
Don't stop believing. Just avoid clichéd musicals that try to capture the anarchic spirit of rock with trite commercial re-treads.
Set on the Sunset Strip in 1987, Rock of Ages (* 1/2 out of four, PG-13, opens Friday) is a clunky karaoke/music video amalgamation that aims for camp, but comes off as cheesy.
Watch an early episode of Glee for a better tale of music career dreams, or better yet track down 1984's This is Spinal Tap for a hilarious satire of the disillusion that kicks in when those careers hit the skids.
Rock of Ages, based on Chris D'Arienzo's Broadway musical, can't seem to decide on how to play its simplistic story — straight or farcically. It ends up half-mocking, half-revering the era.
While the film's hair-metal and power-ballad playlist may not constitute the advertised "greatest hits of the '80s" for all — or even most — rock fans, the familiar songs by such bands as Journey, Poison and Twisted Sister are catchy enough. But the film is flatly shot, badly choreographed and brimming with bad wigs. The boring dance sequences are all the more disappointing given that director Adam Shankman— who did a far better job adapting the Broadway version of John Waters' Hairspray— began his career as a dancer and choreographer.
Tom Cruise plays dissolute rock star Stacee Jaxx, a man who's supposed to ooze sexy danger. Cruise preens, struts around shirtless and pontificates nonsense, making the whole thing feel like more of a vanity project than a film version of an exuberant Broadway musical.
The bigger problem is that the story is centered on a stultifying bland romance between two striking but deadly dull dreamers. There's Sherrie (Julianne Hough), an aspiring singer who motors in to L.A. on a Greyhound from Oklahoma (she and her fellow passengers break into Night Ranger's Sister Christian to while away the hours), and Drew ( Diego Boneta), an aspiring rocker who works at Hollywood's famous Bourbon Room. We know he's rock-star material when he gets his big break, nearly chokes, but collects himself enough to belt out: "I wanna rock!" All is forgiven.
Alec Baldwin steals what there is of the show as the grumpy owner of the Bourbon Room (modeled on the seminal rock club the Whisky). He and assistant Lonny (Russell Brand) break into REO Speedwagon's Can't Fight this Feeling in the funniest number.
Ridiculously exaggerated characters were perfect for Hairspray, but they stand out awkwardly amid this earnest tribute. Leading the charge to clean up the Sunset Strip is Catherine Zeta-Jones, the mayor's wife and a fire-breathing anti-rock matron. A musical number of respectably suited-up moms singing Pat Benatar's Hit Me with Your Best Shot is stale and humorless.
Hough and Boneta are solid singers, but lack acting range. Paul Giamatti throws himself exuberantly into the role of Jaxx's slimy manager.
Though the character remains a cipher, Cruise breathes some life into the tritely familiar rock-god persona, recycling elements of the more complex, misogynistic character he played in 1999's Magnolia.
But the tame, tone-deaf story and collection of mostly forgettable '80s tunes add up to a big zero.
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