Title: Rock of Ages
Directed By: Adam Shankman
Starring: Diego Boneta, Julianne Hough, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige
Hello, guilty pleasure.
Based on the Broadway show, Rock of Ages centers on the story of two wannabe rock stars, a small town girl who moves to LA to live the dream, Sherrie (Julianne Hough), and a bar back with a killer voice who suffers from stage fright, Drew (Diego Boneta). After getting mugged on her very first night in the big city, Drew comes to Sherrie’s aid and helps her get a job waitressing at the Bourbon Room. The place is an undeniable hotspot, but times are rough and owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) still can’t earn enough to keep the place afloat. With the mayor’s anti-rock wife, Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), eager to shut the place down, Dennis and his right hand man, Lonny (Russell Brand), have their fingers crossed that their big show featuring Stacee Jax (Tom Cruise) will bring in enough cash to save the Bourbon Room.
Just like the original Broadway production, there’s a lot going on here, but all of the storylines are generally straightforward making them easy to follow and letting the music take center stage. If you’re interested in checking out Rock of Ages for the budding young love, the nobodies trying to hit it big or the authority vs. rock and roll scenario, you’re in for a major disappointment. The relationship between Drew and Sherrie is as trite as they come, you can see Drew’s chance at making it big coming from a mile away and Patricia Whitmore’s battle against the Bourbon Room never really feels like much of a threat. But really, who cares about any of that? Rock of Ages features a slew of famous faces singing some of the best music rock and roll has to offer.
On the acting front, just about everyone is a caricature and the stars have a blast with it, but some outshine others via over-the-top performances. While entirely one-dimensional, Hough and Boneta make for an adorable young couple and, while he does entirely give himself to the character, Cruise can take Stacee Jaxx to the max, indulging in the character’s nonsensical dialogue and dragging out his drone so much, it can slow the pace. On the other hand, Zeta-Jones has a downright blast playing the villain and takes Patricia to the extreme in an endlessly amusing and vivacious manner. Baldwin and Brand share an oddly endearing relationship in the film while Malin Akerman steps in as Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack and shares quite a few unforgettable scenes with Cruise. The film also rocks quite a few cameos a number of which you’ll have to be on the lookout for, but others manage to make a major impression in mere minutes or seconds of screen time.
As for the music, while Baldwin and Paul Giamatti’s voices are questionable, everyone else is incredible. Hough and Boneta make the perfect match for a number of duets, but Cruise really steals the show with some of his performances. Zeta-Jones is a musical standout as well, commanding a powerful song and dance routine set to the tune of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Another stellar dance sequence takes place in the Venus Club during which club owner, Justice Charlier (Mary J. Blige), encourages Hough to take the stage while Brand and Baldwin excel courtesy of the comedy in their rendition of “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
But just as important as the voice work here are the visuals. Director Adam Shankman is something like a little boy getting to play with all the coolest toys – he’s got so much at his fingertips and is determined to use every asset to the extreme. His music video-like shooting style could have been an issue, but with such a mundane plot at its core, his relentless pacing is pitch-perfect, never allowing for dialogue-driven lulls and keeping the music coming as though he’s putting on a live concert. Then again, no stage show could have sets like this. Between Jon Hutman’s bold production design and Rita Ryack’s vibrant and wildly appropriate costuming choices, Shankman’s frames are packed with eye-catching imagery. Shankman can get a little effect happy, throwing in one too many fades, evident more so than ever during “Heaven,” but generally, he’s got a knack for melding the coverage of the musical performances with a shooting style more suitable for narrative storytelling.
Had Rock of Ages been a movie sans musical performances, it would have been an absolute disaster. But, clearly, that’s not the case here and the humor, visuals and wild performances are not only enough to completely overshadow the fact that we’ve heard this story time and time again, but propel Rock of Ages from any old night at the movies to a wholly enjoyable experience. It’s silly, tacky and is more of a glorified karaoke session than a well made feature film, but Rock of Ages really is a ton of mindless fun.