Film Review: Rock of Ages
Oh, what a love-hate relationship we have with musicals on the big screen! When they work they melt your heart, lift your spirits and turn the most cynical into true romantics. When they do not, however, musical film is possibly the most cringe-inducing form of art there is. Somehow Rock of Ages manages to be both awful and great, it lifts your spirit, cracks you up, has you singing along and blushing with horror.
The premise is as standard as it gets. SPOILER ALERT: Young girl moves from butt-hole nowhere to LA to make her dreams come true. Gets work at a legendary bar, falls in love with a fellow waiter, loses sight of her dreams, gets her heart broken, regains sight of dreams and saves the boy and club from damnation and evil people who hate what it stands for because of personal issues. Yes. It is that uninspired. SPOILER ENDS.
This is a musical so close to Burlesque in story that you can’t help but think that lead actress Julianne Hough is mimicking Christina Aguilera‘s performance, just without the talent, charm, dancing ability and pipes. The character is pretty much the same dishwater rural femme with supposed x-factor, except in Hough’s case the x-factor is missing. She has no voice for rock and roll and should really keep to auto-tuned High-School Musical pop. What ultimately saves Rock of Ages from being horrendous is that it is an ensemble film filled with way better actors, playing an amusing gallery of misfits.
Love interest Drew played by Diego Boneta is not one of those. Boneta has a decent voice on him and looks good in the outfits but there is still something missing from his performance that really makes you root for him. Him and Hough seem like Barbie dolls, plastic and pretty and out of place in a world filled with lust, leather, alcohol, tattoos, fetishes and drugs. They are supposed to be small-towners chasing the dream in the big city but my oh my, do they have to look so synthetic? In any case they don’t make for good leads and so we don’t much care for their story.
We do however chug down every drop of anti-wisdom oozing out of Tom Cruise‘s mouth as he embodies Stacee Jaxx and pray for more. If anyone still doubted Cruise’s abilities as a comical actor they have been proven wrong. If anyone doubted Cruise’s singing abilities let them hang their heads in shame. If anyone doubted that he’d look good as a rock god they should have the good sense to deny it henceforth. Once again Cruise blows us out of the water with a rock solid (pun intended) performance which seemingly draws a lot on Iggy Pop mixed with Axl Rose. Him and Malin Akerman are simply hilarious together yet undoubtedly sexy. There is a relationship that, though quite poorly scripted, is excellently executed.
Veterans Paul Giamatti and Alec Baldwin are very convincing and the latter’s relationship to Russell Brand‘s character is one of the most interesting within the film and certainly one of the most comical. Mary J. Blige brings a certain class to the soundtrack and Bryan Cranston is simply in everything these days (because he’s good) – they all deliver and are mostly entertaining. Catherine Zeta-Jones chews ALL THE SCENERY and then some, managing to be both atrocious and intriguing. So the jury is out on the matter of weather she’s good or bad in this one. One thing is for sure: Her Hit Me with Your Best Shot scene is one of the oddest ones in the film.
That’s not the only scene in the film that just doesn’t work. The beginning is a cringe-o-rama, some of the mash ups are f**k-ups and all in all the first act is a mess. When the final act is up, however, the outrageousness of the era, of the hair and heavy metals, the idea of rock and roll as a lifestyle and an attitude all manage to bring joy to the viewer. There are more hilarious moments in this film than most comedies and the music is really good most of the time. As stated above, Cruise is a fantastic singer and Boneta manages to impress in most of the songs. Giamatti is not trusted with much, luckily, nor is Baldwin. So that’s good. Only Hough is noticeably out of her league. Not her fault, she’s just not right for the part.
Being an Adam Shankman film it is very stylistically shot and that works reasonably well. Some glitter effects are completely out of place but that can be forgiven. The choreography is mostly stunning (again, apart from Hit Me with Your Best Shot), the pole dancing especially impresses and the late 80s boy band routine is priceless.
Final Verdict: A great cast manages to lift a “monkeys-would-find-this-a-bit-too-predictable” script from the gutter and squeeze a fair amount of gags and laughter out of Rock of Ages. Julianne Hough is very poorly cast and out of her league but Tom Cruise saves the day, delivering caseloads of charisma, comedy and kick ass vocals. If you are one for good old fashioned nostalgia (filled with bad hair, bad clothing and over the top power ballads) you might find that this film will have a place on your guilty-pleasures list from now on. If you find all this a bit cheesy, avoid at all cost.