Review: ROCK OF AGES

By Laurie Coker

Rating: B-

By far, for me anyway, the worst decade for music, clothes and fads has to be the 1980s – bad, big hair, pastels, punk rock, jelly shoes, hair metal music, and the like, drove me crazy during my college years. I do like musicals and it seems a trend to have one big summer musical on film, so this year it is Rock of Ages, starring Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin and several other big names. Putting aside the fact that the musical ruminations of the decade missed more than hit, I found the silly, unfresh story, the ridiculous blend of 80s music and the fun cast just impressive enough to say I enjoyed (although not as much as I had hoped) the ride overall.

Hough, I suppose, is the star of Rock of Ages. It is her character Sherrie’s (with a heart over the I) story anyway – she’s “just a small town girl living in a lonely world”, who comes to the big city (Hollywood) seeking fame and fortune as a singer, winds up a striper and then is saved by love. Upon arrival, she meets Drew (Mexico born Boneta), a bar back at the (fictional) Bourbon Room, owned by an aging hippy named Dennis Dupree, played with zeal by the irrepressible Baldwin (who is perhaps the poorest singer in the lot, but not as bad as Mama Mia’s Pierce Brosnan), who has a ridiculously funny duet with Brand (one that will surprise). Their song together had tears streaming down my face I laughed so hard. But back to the story – Drew and Sherrie fall in love. He, too, is a wannabe singer, and they are both tickled pink to meet Stacee Jaxx (Cruise), the super star of hair metal in 1987, when the film is set. Jaxx is a boozed up megalomaniac, and he is the big ticket meant to save Dupree’s club. All the while, a group of do-gooders make every effort to stop the music. Hough, by the way, doesn’t impress at all with her singing in this, especially up against the likes of Mary J. Blige.

The story has no fewer than a four subplots – club owner in debt and needs a big show, weasely manager (wonderfully depicted by Paul Giamatti) scams the house and Drew, drunken, arrogant, misunderstood rocker meets the girl (Malin Akerman) of his dreams, a cheating mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his holier-than-thou wife (Katherine Zeta-Jones) have a personal bone to pick and a desire to clean up the strip (Sunset that is) and there are others, which may explain the film’s over two hour runtime. Truth is, the sidebar involving Zeta-Jones and Cranston feels forced and unnecessary, and I am guessing is meant to provide tension and conflict, but it simply does little for the film. It is truly Cruise who mesmerizes in this. Rock of Ages needs far more Stacee Jaxx and far less adorable Sherrie and Drew.

And there’s the music – songs like Don’t Stop Believin’, Small Town Girl, We Build this City, I Love Rock and Roll, and other 80s “hits” weave the tale together, all sung by the film’s stars. Again, I must reiterate, I am not a fan, but somehow director Adam Shankman manages to provide a sense silly cohesiveness. I don’t want to be picky, but my guy pointed out that More Than Words hadn’t even been released in 87, but he knows music well, so most won’t notice. Eighties music lovers will most likely appreciate the trip back in time.

As I pointed out earlier, Rock of Ages did entertain me and I laughed hard and loud a few times. I knew (unfortunately) all the songs and the cast delights. I might have perhaps liked it more live on Broadway, where it originated, but still, I think it will find a following on film. I am placing a B- in my grade book. I am eager to see how our musical loving, theatre major intern (now traveling in Egypt) reacts to it. And truthfully, I would actually see it again.

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