Rock’n'Roll will never die – as long as it never sees Rock of Ages.
The cinematic version of a Broadway love letter to rock in the 80′s is a far cry from the spirit of what rock actually was at the time. This movie does its best to capture the success of the original live show with a cast full of top-billed talent, but you could get more enjoyment from a jukebox with the same songs.
Allow me to first explain that nearly every song in the Rock of Ages soundtrack is one that I love and treasure. True that it may make me bias in my review, but considering that this same music is iconic in American history there is a level of integrity that it should upheld with. With that said, Rock of Ages does not hold true to the spirit of rock’n’roll.
In fact, it exhibits the same problems that nearly killed rock and roll in the late 80’s. Rock of Ages takes some of the greatest songs ever written and turns them into pop.
Though based on the Broadway show of the same name, the movie leaves behind much of the original’s camp and comedy to focus on a love story between two kids dreaming to make it big (Boley and Hough), an aging eccentric rock god (Cruise), and a woman who wants to see rock’n’roll die in the shadow of decency. If this sounds like a lot for a movie than you’d be right, and little of it is original. Rock of Ages depends on the classic music in it, and the Broadway show realizes this, winking frequently at the audience with plenty of silliness. But without that comedy, all you’re left with is actors singing along, trying to act tough to pop versions of the 80′s most memorable music.
Plenty of talented actors orbit the story of Drew (Boley) and Sherrie (Hough), but I found it hard to care about their trials and tribulations. The only reason to see this movie is the liquid sex that is Tom Cruise as the culmination of every rock god rolled into one, Stacee Jaxx. But even though he’s mentioned constantly, as though he were a unicorn dress as a man, he’s actually not onscreen nearly as much as you’d expect from his magnetic screen presence and believable debauchery.
Equally amazing is Catherine Zeta-Jones as mayoral wife Patricia Whitmore. Her bombastic performance is jarring at first but she sweetly slides into the role of repressed evangelist and is the second-best thing to happen to this movie.
Despite the combined power of Cruise/Zeta-Jones, the reason why you buy tickets for Rock of Ages is the music – which, again, is disappointing to say the least. The greatest voice in the movie (Mary J. Blige) is drowned out – she never gets the chance to shine, and everyone else gets way too much to sing. And when they aren’t singing, many of the performances are uninspired and dull. I didn’t know what I wanted less of, the singing or the acting.
Rock of Ages isn’t terrible, but as a fan of the music who loves to sing along with my fist in the air, it’s disappointing. This movie should have been a comedic look at an eccentric era, but we get a cliched love story set to the backdrop of a karaoke night down at Shenanigans.
Based on the Broadway musical, Rock of Ages is supposed to be a wonderful love letter to the rock and glam metal bands of the 1980s. The stage production was very successful at this, and reminded you why these songs were great with wonderful covers while developing characters, breaking the fourth wall, and hilarious doses of camp. It’s a shame that the movie is a streamlined, watered-down Las Vegas hotel version of the musical, leaving you wondering why you didn’t metaphorically see Cirque Du Soleil instead.
In recent years, we’ve seen a trend – small, but present – of transforming stage shows into big-budget musical films. Some, such as Chicago, Dreamgirls, Mamma Mia, and Hairspray, worked very well. Adam Shankman’s direction of Hairspray retained most of what made the stage show – and the original film – good. But his direction in Rock of Ages is utter chaos, and feels like he bit off more than he could chew.
Rock of Ages shows major changes from stage to screen. It has no time for any characters to be developed, and so many songs it’s a wonder if anyone can find a “story” in the movie itself. A clichéd plot is stitched together with stray bits from Burlesque and The Apple, and we’ve seen all these bits before. Small town girl moves to big city, meets boy, loses boy, sings about boy, becomes a stripper, gets boy back, all the while singing everyone’s favorite rock songs from the 80s.
One begins to wonder if the movie version of Rock of Ages even gets its own joke.
A few shining moments in the movie make sitting though this less painful. Tom Cruise and Catherine Zeta-Jones pretty much make the movie. Tom Cruise’s Stacee Jaxx plays it unapologetically weird and eccentric, channeling every “rock god” stereotype you can think of. He’s drunk and oozes sexuality. He wears leather pants and hands with a monkey. Against this avatar of rock awesomenes is Zeta-Jones’s Patricia Whitmore, the film’s main antagonist, an over-the-top Tipper Gore type with her sights on purging rock-n-roll to “clean up LA” for the children. Zeta-Jones and Cruises’ musical numbers are fun, hamming it up with a gratifying self-awareness about the type of movie they were cast in.
It’s a shame that R&B singer Mary J. Blige isn’t given the same sort of role. She’s the only real singer in the mix, and seeing her powerhouse voice get swallowed up by back-up chorus is as insulting to her as it is to the viewer. Her character is a supporting role there to help our lead, but since she has hardly any lines – and way too many wig changes for one scene – it makes me wonder if they should have just hired RuPaul instead.
I wanted to like this movie, so I was more than a little crushed when it was just falling apart around me. It’s a mess, and not a mess that could be fixed with a few good things here and there. The only shock of actual rock-and-roll comes from Cruise and his sidekick primate who basically steal every scene.
The rest of it is a 80s-themed costume party packed with people you wish would just stop singing songs you like.