Rock of Ages
Good Music, Poor Movie

It’s time to go back to the ’80s—1987, specifically—a time of big hair and hard rock.  Adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name, Rock of Ages is a musical made up entirely of hair rock songs from the era.  Everyone from Poison and Joan Jett to Bon Jovi and Journey lend their songs to this movie that is heavy on music, but light on plot.

Essentially, the movie is the story of two aspiring musicians.  Sherrie is a young woman who has just arrived in L.A. from Oklahoma with dreams of making it big.  Of course, the first thing that happens is that she gets mugged.  Fortunately, another aspiring musician is there to help her land on her feet. Drew works at the legendary Bourbon Room and is able to convince his boss to give her a job.  It’s good timing, too, because the club is about to play host to one of Sherrie’s favorite bands, Arsenal, featuring the legendary Stacee Jaxx.  Sherrie and Diego begin falling in love and Drew is even given a chance to open for the famous Jaxx, but like any good sitcom, a misunderstanding sends each of them on different paths towards their dream.

Adam Shankman, director of Rock of AgesSherrie and Drew are played by relative newcomers Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, but they are surrounded by a supporting cast of popular actors.  Tom Cruise is Jaxx, the existentialist rocker who is aiming to kick off his solo career and may just get a chance at redemption inspired by a Rolling Stone journalist played by Malin Akerman.  Paul Giamatti is Jaxx’s slimy agent who looks to take advantage of the struggling Bourbon Room, run by Alec Baldwin’s Dennis Dupree and his sidekick Lonny, played by Russell Brand.  Dupree’s business is also threatened by the mayor’s wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, who has organized church groups to take a stand against the depravity that surrounds the club.

Although that seems like a lot of plot description when it is condensed into two paragraphs, it doesn’t feel like such when it is spread throughout a two-hour long movie.  Essentially, Rock of Ages is a concert film, allowing time for only about five lines of dialogue between each of the musical numbers.  Although that probably worked very well on stage where the audience is essentially watching a concert anyway, could have spent a little more time developing its story and characters.  Of course, had the musical numbers been more engrossing, perhaps the lackluster plot would not have been as noticeable.

The problem is not with the music itself, but rather the energy—or lack thereof—of the musical numbers.  Although most of the featured songs inspired a “Hey, I remember this song” reaction, very few of them actually had the audience headbanging along in their seats.  A few exceptions included Tom Cruise’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” number and a duet between Baldwin and Brand that generated the biggest audience reaction at the preview screening… which probably had nothing to do with the song, actually.  Many of the musical numbers also tended to bounce around between characters a little too much, tying together scenarios that didn’t necessarily need to be tied together.

All of those popular actors in the supporting parts fill their roles nicely, with Cruise perhaps being the stand-out.  Baldwin does have some good lines and Brand is fun, but sometimes with him it felt like subtitles could have been helpful.  Strangely enough, one of the movie’s best scenes came courtesy of T.J. Miller as the poor schmuck who’s stuck answering the phones at the Rolling Stone offices in the middle of the night.  It’s almost a shame that it’s his only scene.

Where the movie really falters is with its two leads.  Compared to their more established co-stars, Hough and Boneta just look overmatched and it is difficult to get drawn into their respective dilemmas.  As such, there is little to care about the path that each of their characters has to take to get to the inevitable conclusion.

If anything, Rock of Ages  inspires its audience to create an iTunes shopping list so that they can create their own mini-concerts at home with the more inspired original versions of the songs featured in the movie.

Rock of Ages is rated PG-13 for “sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language.”  From what I understand, the movie has been really toned down from the stage version to make it more family friendly, but the PG-13 rating is still needed.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Rock of Ages.