When a critically acclaimed and commercially popular Broadway musical is adapted for the big screen, theater audiences who are in-the-know will inevitably compare the movie version to the rocking stage production. Rock of Ages takes a page from this stage show-turned-movie script (so to speak), trying to capture the magic of a multi-award winning Broadway show for nationwide movie audiences.
The plot of the movie Rock of Ages is framed around small town girl, Sherrie (played by Julianne Hough, Footloose), a young woman from Oklahoma who arrives in Los Angeles with dreams of rock stardom. Upon Sherrie’s arrival in Los Angeles she is robbed of her belongings despite the failed heroic intervention of Drew (played by Diego Boneta). Drew is a barback at the Bourbon Room on Hollywood’s iconic Sunset Strip. Set in rock music’s heyday in 1987, the fictional Bourbon Room is a place of legend; one of those iconic rock ‘n roll hot spots where several stars performed and launched their music careers. One of the Bourbon Room’s most notable alumni is rock star Stacee Jaxx (played by Tom Cruise). Tom Cruise’s Jaxx is the lead singer of the fictional band, Arsenal.
All is not rocking at the Bourbon Room as Mayor Mike Whitmore (played by Bryan Cranston) and his wife Patricia Whitmore (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) are on a morality campaign to rid Los Angeles of rock ‘n roll music for good, citing its terrible influence on the youth. While all of this is happening, Bourbon Room owner and aging burn-out Dennis (played by Alec Baldwin) and his right-hand man Lonny (played by Russell Brand) try to keep the club afloat despite ongoing political pressures and financial difficulties.
Much of the plot of Rock of Ages is expressed and orchestrated through a mix of classic 1980s hit songs from groups such as Guns N’ Roses, Journey, Poison, and other popular acts of the time. The cast of Rock of Ages also performs their own renditions of classic songs throughout the film. The idea behind a good cover performance is to capture the spirit of the original while still being a unique musical experience. This is where the cast of Rock of Ages really shines. Tom Cruise leads the way when the actors are not singing. Cruise delivers an excellent performance as troubled rock star, Stacee Jaxx. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand also do solid work as the film’s comic relief, and the two have great chemistry together.
Unfortunately, Rock of Ages has little to offer once the music stops. The story goes through the plot point conventions of boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, it all falls apart and so forth. Compared to the stage performance of Rock of Ages, which is a surprisingly dark work with more story complexity and details such as the relationships between the characters themselves, the film Rock of Ages offers a bland alternative. The movie Rock of Ages seems to drag on in between musical numbers and has you wondering, “Can we just get to the next song already?”
Outside of Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, the acting runs the gamut from forgettable performances by good actors to mediocre performances that leave much to be desired.
Fortunately, the main focus for the audience in a movie like Rock of Ages will be the musical scenes. The actors can sing, but the set pieces and choreography bring it all home. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) starts the film’s journey by breaking into song on her bus trip to Los Angeles and sets the tone immediately that the musical aspects of Rock of Ages are its clear strength. The aesthetics of the movie Rock of Ages had the feel of a stage show, yet worked within the context of being a Hollywood production. One scene where the stage version comes to mind is where Sherrie and Drew are perusing records before breaking into a medley involving “Juke Box Hero” by Foreigner, and “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” famously attributed to Joan Jett. The sets made the film come to life, and credit should be given where it is due, to the film’s set designers.
Rock of Ages manages to portray a spot-on imitation of the time period, or at least some of the legends of the time that are still relevant in present day popular culture.
The streets around The Bourbon Room in Rock of Ages are dirty and clustered with bikers who want nothing more than to rock out. The feeling inside the establishment is one that screams for the freedom that rock music supposedly provides. In this world, rock is not just a musical genre, but a way of life. While not the biggest rock music fan, personally, every song in Rock of Ages is recognizable for having a cultural impact in one way or another. Rock of Ages also has the distinct benefit of being able to introduce classic music tracks to the current generation that may not otherwise become familiar with these classic songs.
Despite the very present flaws in the movie version of Rock of Ages, the strengths make it a very watchable film. For fans of the stage show, you may find the changes to the movie plot compromise the product, but the musical performances should make the experience worthwhile. Likewise for anyone who can appreciate the era portrayed in Rock of Ages, or at least a good musical show.
Otherwise, you may want to skip this one and hold out hope for something to the tune of “Dialogue of Ages.”
“Rock of Ages” starring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, Alec Baldwin & Tom Cruise
Rated PG-13. Runtime 123 min. Theatrical release 6/15/2012.
PR.com Rating: C+