Review: Rock Of Ages
Directed by: Adam Shankman.
Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige.
Based on the stage play of the same name, the movie is set in 1987 and starts with Sherrie (Julianne Hough) stepping off the bus in Hollywood who as she walks along the strip is noticed by Drew (Diego Boneta) when a guy steals her suitcase. Drew runs over from across the street but is too late to catch the theif with her belongings which included all her money. Drew explains that he works at the acclaimed rock nightclub ‘The Bourbon Room’ across the street, and offers to speak to the manager Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) to try and get her a job. Dennis turns Sherrie down at first, citing that she’s obviously a wannabee singer who was told by her aunt that she had a wonderful voice, but hires her after learning that one of his waitresses has just quit.
Meanwhile, newly elected Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his religious wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) start a campaign to clean up the sleaze of the Hollywood strip, looking for ways to close down The Bourbon Room and find that the club owes thousands in unpaid taxes. Dennis and his right hand man Lonny (Russel Brand), desperate to ensure that the club will remain open, have everything riding on the return to the club of ageing rockster Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), who will give a final performance with his band Arsenal before enbarking on a solo career at the behest of his manager and producer Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti).
I’ve never liked musicals, I never have. This is something i’ve known for over a decade, and I can now put my finger on the exact reason why. Though Rock of Ages has been getting some pretty rough reviews, let me start out by making two statements that will surprise you, one – that I absolutely enjoyed the hell out of it (stay with me here) – no one was more surprised at that than me, and two – that you might enjoy it too.
Allow me to explain both of those.
Belive me, I’ve tried to get into musicals before, but I could never get into classics like The Sound of Music, or Cabaret. I even tried some more recent releases like 2002’s Chicago and 2008’s Mamma Mia! but just found the genre still wasn’t for me. Oh, and don’t get me started on how much I hate Glee. It always seemed odd to me that someone on screen never looked around in surprise, wondering what the hell was going on in reaction to the cheesy way random people just broke out into song and dance, it was just one step too far in the suspension of disbelief for me. This is one of the main reasons why I’ve never liked musicals, or at least that’s what I thought until now.
I’m a child of the late 70’s/early 80’s and growing up I was not so heavily into music, but in my 20’s I started to get into and appreciate rock music from that era. Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Foreigner, Def Leppard, Journey, even though most of them I didn’t know by name or know the lyrics like the back of my hand, they were songs I recognised and instantly liked. The reason that I enjoyed Rock Of Ages so much is because, unlike the other musicals that I’ve tried before, I not only know the music in the movie, i love the music in the movie, it means something to me.
There’s still the need to suspend disbelief as even right as the movie starts with Julianne Hough’s Sherrie travelling on the bus, she starts to sing out loud and is then joined by the bus driver and then her fellow passengers in an opening that initially earned small nervous laughs from the audience before setting the tone for the rest of the movie. If you can’t get past that, then you’re going to struggle with it, but for me once over that hurdle (thanks largely to the choice of music), the rest of the movie is easy to stay with.
As i’ve already said, one of the things that really worked for me was the music in the movie, here the actors truly seem to be singing and the voices match, being different enough that you know it’s the actors real voices. There’s also been great care taken to keep the songs close to the original sound while doing their own covers of such titles as Hit Me With Your Best Shot, Wanted Dead or Alive, I Want to Know What Love Is, I Wanna Rock, Paradise City, as well as some bold crossovers (a back and forth between Russel Brand and Catherine Zeta-Jones leading two opposing crowds simultaniously with renditions of We Built This City and We’re Not Gonna Take It is fantastic) are a delight to the ears, while the ensemble moments never get too grande as to become laugh inducing. There’s great editing of some scenes when a song is being sung by different characters at different locations, all tied together fluently. Even the love ballards are handled respectably, especially between two characters at one point that works far better than you would belive if I told you who it was!
There’s exceptional use of props, and styles signifigant to the late 80’s/early 90’s that are very nice touches – people shopping in a Tower Records store, the headphones of Sherrie’s walkman, the casette recorder used by Malin Ackerman’s Rolling Stone reporter, the classic Maxwell House coffee tin used by Sherrie as a money jar, the old paper roll calculator used by Russel Brand when adding up, the reference to 90’s hip-hop boy bands performing lip synching, and the hair and clothing styles all adding authentic touches that help it feel like the movie is set when it says it is. Hopefully people in wardrobe, props and set decoration get some recognition come awards times, they’ve earned it.
That’s not to say the movie is perfect, no movie is. Rock Of Ages like any movie has it’s fair share of problems.
The two lead actors are believable in their parts, but could have been better, though at least the two do have good screen chemistry as well as decent vocal performances. The majority of scenes involving Tom Cruise’s Stacee Jaxx and any of the hundreds of women throwing themselves at his feet are played for laughs but are sometimes not as funny as they are meant to be, they don’t exactly fall flat, but some of them are dragged out for too long. Cruise plays the part a little bit over the top as the rock star tired of playing the persona that everyone expects him to be, but it works in the movie. Paul Giamatti’s music executive is the stereotypical ‘bad guy in a suit’ that you expect, nothing more. It’s a great performance from him, but a bit of a waste of his talent, and lazy typecasting from roles he’s played before.
The story is far from original, a highly clichéd version of 2000’s Coyote Ugly with all the boxes ticked – Young wanabee singer with stars in her eyes? Check, hypocritical mary whitehouse clone with an axe to grind? Check, ageing drunk rockster? Check, grubby money grabbing music executive? Check. Oh, and let’s not forget Mary J Blige’s hair (though I wish I could) – pick a look and stay with it, it’s like it’s having a mid-life crisis of it’s own, it’s literally doing it’s own thing every time we see her!
Russell Brand is the source of several funny one-liners in the movie, but his attempt at what seems like a Liverpudlian accent is all over the place, he does still manage to get the majority of the comedic moments, as well as an exceptionally well trained Babboon that plays the part of ‘Yes man’, a member of Stacy Jaxx’s entourage. Both of them got their share of laughs from the audience in the cinema when I saw this, though is it really surprising that Brand is upstaged by a real life Baboon?
The movie has a level of sexual suggestion that is at times excessive for a 12A rating to say the least. Parents be warned, if you’re considering taking youngsters to see this, to check out the details beforehand, though this may be due to the setting, with rock gods being sexually idolised by the younger generation, some of it may be a bit strong for anyone under that age.From the BBFC website: Moderate visual and verbal sex references feature throughout the film. There are references to ‘vagina’, some oblique wordplay on oral sex, and a comment made by a man on meeting a woman again after many years, who tells her: “Your tits have held up pretty well”. These references occur in a comic context and are not particularly crude or detailed. There is also a scene in which a rock star attempts to seduce a female journalist in his dressing room and some sequences set in a club in which scantily clad dancers perform. However, the scenes in the club are presented as choreographed and stylised dance numbers set to rock music hits and no nudity is shown.
The running time is also a bit on the long side, it runs along at a perfect pace for the first hour and a bit, before faultering slightly for the majority of the second hour when it really needed to be reeled in a little, though thankfully it does pick up towards the movie’s end. Some trimming and re-working of that 30 or so minutes could have made it a better one hour and forty minute movie instead of the two hour movie it is, probably as a result of including so many songs, honestly though I can see where they would have struggled to cut out one or two of them.
I know that I’m not the movie’s target audience, though I suspect it’s more likely to appeal to the late 20’s/early 30’s crowd more than it’s intended target audience of the late teen’s early 20’s. Had this movie come along a decade ago I think it would have been welcomed by a lot more people than it seems to have been. After seeing this, I went home and started listening through my music collection to songs that I hadn’t listened to in quite a while, and enjoyed all the more. If you’re a fan of the music on show, e sure to see this in a packed screen with great sound for full effect. If however you’re not a fan of rock, maybe one to give a miss. As far as I’m concerned though, that’s your loss.
Posted on June 17, 2012, in Reviews and tagged Adam Shankman, Alec Baldwin, Any Way You Want It, based on stage play, Bon Jovi, Bryan Cranston, Can't Fight This Feeling, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Def Leppard, Diego Boneta, Don't Stop Believin', Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Foreigner, Guns N' Roses, Harden My Heart, Heaven, Here I Go Again, Hit Me with Your Best Shot, I Love Rock 'n' Roll, I Wanna Rock, I Want to Know What Love Is, Journey, Juke Box Hero, Julianne Hough, Just Like Paradise, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, More Than Words, musical, Night Ranger, Nothin' but a Good Time, Paradise City, Paul Giamatti, Poison, rock, Russell Brand, Sister Christian, Some Sugar on Me, stacee jaxx, tom cruise, Twisted Sister, Undercover Love, Waiting for a Girl Like You, Wanted Dead or Alive, We Built This City, We're Not Gonna Take It, Whitesnake. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.