Stop me if you’ve heard this before. “Just a small town girl…”
As fun as it is to hear sometimes, pretty much the entire contents of “Rock of Ages” is stuff you’ve heard before, but performed better. It’s based on a cheesy stage musical that pays tribute to the jukebox hair metal anthems, power ballads, and rock chords of the Eighties. If you are a fan of that music, and don’t care much for plot, character development, or musical integrity, you might enjoy this movie. Doctor Feelgood couldn’t save this movie from dying a slow demise under it’s own schtick, as much as it tries to capture the rebel attitude of Rock awesomeness, it ends up being glossy pop dreck.
Oklahoma girl Sherri (Julianne Hough) is fresh off the bus on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. She’s chasing a dream of being a singer with L.P.’s in suitcase (didn’t we have cassettes by ’87?), and runs into city boy, Drew (Diego Boneta), a bar back at the legendary Bourbon Room. This boy-meets-girl story allows for a lot of soft rock ballads, but goes off on tangents with all of the other characters. There’s the gruff club owner (Alec Baldwin) and his right hand stage hand (Russell Brand), with terrible fake wigs, that are trying to keep their once flourishing establishment afloat. This is threatened by the Mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his Christian morale patriot wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who make it their mission to close the Bourbon Room and clean up the city. The venue can only be saved by Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), a Axl Rose style rock god, who hides a darker longing underneath his drunk, oversexed exterior. Unfortunately, none of these plots are compelling enough to capture our attention or even make us care. Cruise, Baldwin, and Brand have fun with their characters, but ultimately are not given much to work with as their songs come and go with a passing fancy.
I wish I could tell you that the music was the redeeming factor here. While all the actors provide a descent rendition of their respective numbers, none capture the arena rock flare that has thrilled crowds of the past. With the possible exception of Cruise’s rendition of “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Boneta’s belting “I Wanna Rock”, most of the musical numbers fall flat with choppy editing, derivative to no choreography, and underwhelming vocals. It’s like they are singing, and not caring about anything.
The biggest problem isn’t with the music, or even the wooden acting of it’s sappy romantic leads, but the rewriting of rock history. You really have to suspend your disbelief while trying to have fun with this stuff, but it’s distracting. People that even sort of like this music would like to celebrate the music of Journey, Guns and Roses, and Bon Jovi. Goodness knows we’ve already suffered through a decade of American Idol and Glee renditions. But when Drew is writing a new song, “Don’t Stop Believing,” for Sherrie, it basically denies the existence of Steve Perry. Most of the audience even snickered at this part, having issue with the ridiculous alternate timeline. I can believe the Hulk smashing on screen, or aliens on a distant planet, but even though I know that rock was fun in the Eighties, “Rock of Ages” almost made me stop believing.
“Rock of Ages” stars Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Ackerman, Mary J. Blige, Alec Baldwin, and Tom Cruise.