By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)

I grew up during the eighties, listening to the songs and artists that inspire this stage musical-turned-feature film.  In hindsight, I still like much of the music that emerged from that era, but also realize that nostalgia strongly fuels these sentiments.  Whatever substance the rock music of the eighties lacked the fact that it was fun made up for its faults.  Call it fluff, junk food, or however one wants to negatively label it, the songs have a certain uplifting escapist quality. So why did I not like this particular musical, chockfull of these fist pumping, cheesy tunes? There are several reasons that not even fun, enjoyable songs could remedy.

It seems as if the “creative” minds behind this musical, took all of the songs they enjoy and loosely constructed a flimsy story around them.  The story takes place in the L.A. rock music scene, particularly at a night club called The Bourbon Room.  Small town girl Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) has just arrived bright eyed and effervescent, hoping to pursue her dreams of becoming a rock singer.  She manages to score a job waiting tables at The Bourbon working for Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his assistant Lonny (Russell Brand).  Here she meets Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), another aspiring rock star and the two instantly fall in love.  The decadence of the era takes its toll on the relationship, though, especially on one fateful night when the famous Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) performs a huge show at Dupree’s club.

Written by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, and Allen Loeb, based on D’Arienzo’s stage musical, and directed by Adam Shankman, Rock of Ages has a frustratingly paper thin story.  Seriously, the plot of this film is ridiculous. I had no empathy whatsoever for Sherrie and Drew.  Their characters are so exasperatingly dull and quite frankly, oblivious.  The intentions of the filmmakers also confused me. The film has these moments where Shankman and his writers lovingly celebrate the era and its music, but then there are scenes where they make fun, but in a more insulting manner.  The mix of love and lampoon just felt really unevenly put together.

I will give kudos to Shankman and his production.  Shankman, a choreographer, does offer up some lovely looking scenes, particularly the ones which take place in a strip club.  The production and art design looks amazing as do the makeup and costumes.  As for the music and songs, the singing sounds so overly-produced that it seriously lacks a much needed edge.  All of the songs feel so castrated and artificial.  I know most hair metal isn’t the most edgy rock music in existence, but the producers of the soundtrack took what little grit it does have and polished it dull.  I particularly did not like Julianne Hough’s singing which sounds extremely whiny and nasally.  Every time she sang on the screen I cringed.

Her acting in this role tanks as well.  I liked her better in the recent update of Footloose.  Diego Boneta shows much more promise as a singer and acting double threat, but is given very little to do with this character.  In the supporting cast, I actually enjoyed Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, and Paul Giamatti, who play Stacee’s manager Paul Gill.  These actors actually have interesting characters to portray and utilize their talents well.  The cast also includes Catherine Zeta-Jones as Patricia Whitmore a mayoral first lady with extreme right wing Christian values whose goal is to shut down The Bourbon.  She really shines in this role and performs wonderfully.  As for Tom Cruise, I have to hand it to him.  He does an amazing job as the burnt out, egotistical mega-rock star Stacee Jaxx.  I just couldn’t stand his overly-produced vocals.  I loved his acting.  I hated his singing.  The real stand-out award goes to Mary J. Blige who, with her singing talents and wonderful screen presence, outshines every single member of the cast. Blige portrays Justice Charlier, owner and madam of the Venus, a gentleman’s club. Her natural charisma won me over and left me wanting to see more of her in this film and in future projects.

A two star rating sounds a bit generous despite all of my issues with this movie, but I will admit that I did enjoy some of the humor.  The movie started off okay, but then goes off into a bloated decadent mess.  I will give credit to Shankman for directing a gorgeous looking, well choreographed mess, and to the supporting cast for their earnest performances.  Still, even the fun escapist music of the eighties couldn’t help me escape the poorly written story and poorly developed lead characters.  It certainly did not help that the versions of these songs lacked the grit and edge that the original versions have.

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