By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Dakota Sage-Grant, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Bryan Cranston, Malin Akerman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Cruise
Rock of Ages is a perfect example of what would happen if Mama Mia and Gene Simmons conceived a child (don’t rule it out. That guy bedded everyone). An obvious aftermath of the Glee pop culture phenomenon, Rock of Ages is a sometimes funny, most of the time loud, but never mind-embedded musical comedy. In other words, while walking out of the theater you will more than likely be humming the constant barrage of hair metal songs that were thrown your way and not thinking about the plot itself. The film has a few pretty hearty laughs, and I found myself really getting into the love story at the center of it all. Some people came off less annoying and actually funnier than usual (Brand). Some people played about as against type as you can get (Baldwin). While one was just a shrill who did nothing but cluck like an annoying hen and take up precious screen time that could be devoted to the story (Jones). However, I have to say: the movie does a great job of mish mashing some artists’ music so fluently you wouldn’t think that they were two different songs (it is a real work of art to mesh Joan Jett and Foreigner like it is done here) and just that alone was good enough to entertain this old school hair metal fan….for awhile.
The frustrating part of Rock of Ages is that while the core story was way better than expected, almost everything else surrounding it downplays the good vibes, and unfortunately, the film as a whole. A girl from Oklahoma comes to LA to ‘live the dream,’ and ends up waitressing, loving, and dancing. Among other things. Near the beginning, she meets Drew Boley (Boneta), who she starts a relationship with, as well as hurdles that come with the highs and lows of an 80s rock star’s life. It’s not a new story, but scenes such as the two of them getting to know one other on the Hollywood sign and serenading each other at Tower Records were, if I may say so without sounding like a softy, sweet. But, when Rock of Ages wasn’t surrounding itself with the core story, it was going on & on about the backstabbing by sick and tired rock star manager Paul Grill (Giamotti) and torturing us with scene after annoying scene involving the no other way to put it but flat out annoying baboon named Hey Man (every time someone walks in a room with the monkey in sight, they say, ‘hey man.’ Get it? Groan).
Two things I will not put down about Rock of Ages are (most of) its performances and musical numbers. Even after seeing the previews, I was on the fence about whether I would believe Cruise as a certified rock star. It has to be cleared up: he isn’t just playing the lead singer of a band. He is playing Stacee Jaxx, a made up version of THE biggest rock star in the world. And, I have to say: with the exception of a few scenes where he tries ‘too’ hard (his performance of Pour Some Sugar On Me seemed a tad bit forced and overplayed), he turns in a better than decent performance here. Say what you want about the guy, but I can’t think of a film where he didn’t bring his all and wasn’t at least entertaining, even if the film was not. And Rock of Ages is no exception. Hough really lights up the screen. In fact, there were times when she flat out glows. Her expressive and piercing blue eyes make for the exact thing someone coming into the character of Sherrie needs. And, even though she is not hard on the eyes by any means, she gives more than enough other reasons to like her. Boneta was decent here as well, and even if some places his character goes gets cringe worthy, from no fault of his. Baldwin is also playing against type here, but it must be said that the scenes involving banter between him and Brand were probably the funniest exchanges of the movie. Brand, someone who I normally can’t stand (seen Arthur? Neither did anyone else) was actually really funny here. And, I can only think of one instance where his normal intuition to take things a bit too far to the point of bad taste came into play. This did not deter from my enjoyment of his scenes and character though. The other two actors in question, however, I could have done without. Until an admittedly fun singing duet with Cruise, Akerman was letting her black rimmed glasses and very blonde & curly wig she had to wear as Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack do the acting for her. From that moment on, however, she was more often than not adequate, but still hit and miss nonetheless. The person who really should have gone with the script though is Patricia Whitman (Jones) an ultra conservative who wants to shut down all concerts involving Jaxx. She starts off as just annoying, but when the scriptwriters eventually give us a reason why she is so angry at Jaxx, it came off as thrown together and forcing an issue that really had no business being in the film anyway (Whitman was made up for this movie and not a part of the 2006 musical).
One thing I enjoyed about Rock of Ages is that from the first scene, if the trailers didn’t do it enough, when Sherrie is on a bus singing Night Ranger’s Sister Christian with all the passengers, I knew what I was getting into. And, again, the way some of these hits were mashed made for fun times for me. However, I do understand that one man’s Rock of Ages is another’s Battleship. In other words, if you don’t like hair metal, you more than likely will not like this movie and instead find it to be a bunch of noise (wow, I’m starting to sound like my parents all those years ago). Sure, some of the songs here were placed in the film without much thought (even though the film takes place in 1987, Skid Row’s 1989 hit I Remember You can be heard blaring through a Tower Records), but whether it was Cruise, Hough, Baldwin, or Giamatti (yep, even he gets some sing-time) it was, most of the time, a nice way to tell the film. In the end, even though Rock of Ages has its funny moments & well delivered lines, its so-so plot and way overlong 123 minute running time just made it feel…off. I walked out of the theater feeling like I had just been to a hair metal concert. I can hear the duhs from here, but this concert felt to me like a lot of music critics’ feelings on the music genre as a whole back then: A good time that is lacking real substance. If that sounds like your idea of ‘Nothin But A Good Time,’ then Rock of Ages might be for you. But, it was the ever so slight thorn on the rose for me. Ouch, my head hurts.
3 out of 5