ROCK OF AGES
*1/2 (out of 5)
June 15, 2012
Diego Boneta as DREW BOLEY
Julianne Hough as SHERRIE CHRISTIAN
Tom Cruise as STACEE JAXX
Alec Baldwin as DENNIS DUPREE
Russell Brand as LONNY
Catherine Zeta-Jones as PATRICIA WHITMORE
Paul Giamatti as PAUL GILL
Malin Akerman as CONSTANCE SACK
Mary J. Blige as JUSTICE CHARLIER
Directed by: Adam Shankman
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
If you get giddy at the thought of a jukebox musical, you’ll probably be ready to enjoy “Rock of Ages.” Based on the hit Broadway play, this film assembles some of the biggest rock anthems from the 80s and wraps a feeble story around them.
The problem with all this is that, unless you follow the world of Broadway shows (which only have a marginal chance of being made into a successful Hollywood musical), you probably weren’t even aware this existed. I wasn’t, and I consider myself to be relatively aware of pop culture in general.
But the first trailer of “Rock of Ages,” which dropped in front of “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” last Christmas was the first time I had heard of this. And it was a laughable trailer, even before the people started singing in it.
The story is basically “Burlesque” without the cabaret setting or “Showgirls” without the NC-17 strip club element. Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) is a naive girl from the Midwest, literally fresh off the bus in Hollywood. After getting her bag stolen, she hooks up with a guy working at the Bourbon Room, a legendary music venue. There, she is swept of in the drama of rock god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), who is playing his last show before embarking on a solo career.
This movie wants to show the edgy side of 80s sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, but it fails. Instead, there’s very little sex and the only drug in the film is hard liquor. Hardly the environment of Def Leppard and Aerosmith in their heyday.
“Rock of Ages” does for 80s rock what “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” did for Rocky Horror (not surprisingly also directed by Adam Shankman), in which all mentions of transexuals and seat-wetting were removed for the 8 p.m. show choir TV audience. “Rock of Ages” is a sanitized PG-13 exercise in blandness. In one scene, for example, two characters presumably have sex, but both people still have pants on. So the audience is to believe that either they had fully-clothed intercourse, or dry humping to a maybe-climax in 1987 was some sort of uber-taboo.
This whole angle reminds me of my college orientation in which a local band was playing Simon & Garfunkle’s “Cecilia” and not-so-cleverly changed the lyric “Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia, up in my bedroom.” Let’s forget for a moment that the lyric came from Simon & Garfunkle, possibly the least offensive musicians to come out of the 60s. Apparently the band they didn’t want to piss off the parents (who were likely in college themselves when the song came out) with the suggestion that kids might actually have sex.
In this respect, I can’t imagine who this film is targeting. The people that were alive in the 80s, especially those who went to places like the Bourbon Room, would clearly see this as a joke. The younger generation won’t care about the film because the music is too old, and no one under 30 really cares about Tom Cruise anyway. My only conclusion is “Rock of Ages” was made for the narrow sliver of Broadway fans out there that have already seen the show on the stage… and I hear there are enough significant changes to the story that they’ll be pissed off too.
On top of the clueless delivery of the subject matter, “Rock of Ages” can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it trying to be funny? Ironically funny? Or is it supposed to be a sweet story with a lot of heart. It’s as if these were the three different directions the movie wanted to go, and everyone got a different memo telling them to go a different way.
The film is so cheesy (with character names like Sherrie Christian and Constance Sack, as well as a record label named… wait for it… “Blackheart Records”) that it implodes on itself. It features some of the most nonsensical plot developments, like a strip club madam (which doesn’t and never has existed) who takes Sherrie under her wing, then coerces her into dancing only to later tell her she has to leave to get respect. It also has a completely warped sense of chronology, in which a few days until the Stacee Jaxx concert meshes with a three month courtship between Sherrie and her new beau.
All this to hear Hollywood celebrities perform lousy covers of songs you’d rather hear from the original artists? “Rock of Ages” dives off the stage and lands with a thud on the floor.