Just when I thought 1980s nostalgia was going out of style, out comes Rock of Ages, the big screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical.
It’s the clichéd story of a small-town girl (living in a lonely world) who takes the midnight bus from Oklahoma to Hollywood in 1987. She meets the city boy (born and raised in south Detroit) and together they pursue their dreams of hitting it big.
Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta) are the leads, but it’s the supporting characters that raise the movie to something slightly above bargain-bin level.
Tom Cruise plays against type as the long-haired, tattooed rocker Stacee Jaxx. Other supporting cast members include Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Alec Baldwin and R&B singer Mary J. Blige.
With different leads, I might have enjoyed this movie a lot more.
Rock of Ages marks the second movie in a row (Footloose) that Hough has failed to wow me. I found her voice a bit thin for most of the rock songs and her acting seemed more fitting for a TV movie. Boneta, in his first big-screen role, failed to charm me as well although it was only his acting that was the problem, not his singing.
And together, their chemistry was seriously lacking heat. They work together at The Bourbon Room bar on the Sunset Strip and a have a pseudo-romance going on, but I didn’t particularly care if they ended up together or not.
That’s not to say that the movie is a total waste of time. Yes, this is a musical and characters do suddenly break into song. Although I prefer musicals where the songs were written for the movie instead of ones like Rock of Ages, where the script was written around the songs. Still, I quite enjoyed most of the music as director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) together with choreographer Mia Michaels (So You Think You Can Dance) put together some nice song and dance scenes.
With a monkey named “Hey Man” and any number of groupies at his beck and call, Cruise surprisingly came across as an authentic rocker. Oh, and his auto-tuned singing voice is pretty good as well.
I would have liked to see more from Zeta-Jones, who played Patricia Whitmore, the wife of Los Angeles mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston). Patricia is vehemently opposed to the sinful rock music of the day. Zeta-Jones has some fun performances, including “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and a mash-up of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” with Russell Brand singing “We Built this City.” As villains go, she’s rather weakly written. Blige also was underused with a small role as the owner of a gentleman’s club. I really enjoyed Blige’s rendition of “Any Way You Want It.”
Baldwin, as the owner of The Bourbon Room, and Brand, his employee, seem to be having a lot of fun with their roles, and, in particular, one funny scene between them is one of the movie’s most memorable moments.
The No. 1 thing Rock of Ages has going for it is the explosion of ’80s rock music from bands such as Def Leppard, Foreigner, Journey, Poison, REO Speedwagon, Bon Jovi and Twisted Sister. Fans of music from this era will find that Rock of Ages is a rocking good time — if they ignore the storyline.
Movie Grade: B-