Saturday, July 7, 2012

Review: Rock of Ages

I knew this film was going to be shit. Knew it so surely that I didn't bother to read the reviews. Perhaps I should have, as it was a bit of a surprise to find that it was a proper people-stopping-what-they're-doing-to-sing musical. I was pleasantly surprised about this, for a while at least.

Rock of Ages is set on the Sunset Strip of the 1980s that nurtured some of the biggest bands of that decade, Guns & Roses included. The film focuses on the relationship and quest for fame of Sherrie (Julianne Hough), a newcomer to LA with stars in her eyes, and Drew (Diego Boneta), a waiter at the legendary (or so we're told) Bourbon Club with dreams of rockstardom. They break-up; she ends up stripping, he joins a boy band. Meanwhile, the mayor's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) goes on a Moral Majority crusade against the Bourbon, who's owner (Alec Baldwin) and stage manager (Russell Brand) are secretly in love with each other, and crazed rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), who, as a result of liaison with an ingenue Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman), comes to realize that his career's in ruins no thanks to his sleazebag manager (Paul Giamatti). Naturally, it all works out for everyone, and there's a big sing-a-long to "Don't Stop Believing".

As you can see, the plot is clich├ęd and predictable, adding nothing new to the genre and providing little material with which to redeem itself. Sherrie and Drew are such a cookie-cutter young couple--there is nothing original about them--that they are completely non-compelling. I found myself more interested in the sub-plots, which are given, at times, either too much weight, drawing focus from the main story, or not enough, leaving characters and relationships undeveloped.

While all involved must be given praise their vocal performance, especially since most of the big stars in the cast aren't singers, in terms of acting, performances are all-around terrible. The young leads are incapable of injecting anything interesting into their well-worn characters, and Baldwin delivers every line of the God-awful dialogue while laughing at it on the inside. Zeta-Jones positively feasts on the scenery every time she's on screen, whereas Cruise, perhaps under the delusion he's in an Axel Rose biopic, plays it too seriously, though the role gives him plenty of legitimate reasons to take the performance over the top. Only Brand, whose usual schtick fits in perfectly, and Mary J. Blige (as the strip club madam) do anything remotely watchable. Blige, an R&B legend, delivers a show stealing performance akin to Ray Davies's in Absolute Beginners.

As bad as it was, however, Rock of Ages delivers a lot of laughs, though I'm not sure how many of them were intentional. It was hard to tell what was supposed to be a joke because the way the film was paced; it didn't allow enough time for the gags to sink in properly. But the musical numbers were (mostly) well staged and performed. I'm not a fan of hair metal, so I can't really judge whether or not they "ruined" the songs (though having Zeta-Jones and the PMRC dancing chorus singing Twisted Sister was a little disconcerting), but the music seemed to be used well. However, power ballad after power ballad got a bit tiring and the songs soon lost their ability to make you pump your fist in the air and shout "Rock 'n' Roll! WOOO!!!" They come across as dispassioned. And, sadly, the opportunity for a Jets v. Sharks style rumble between the morality girls and the Stacee Jaxx fans in the "We're Not Gonna Take It/We Built This City" medley was completely squandered, though, as a bonus, I think there were a few rockers from the 80s hair metal scene making cameos in the crowd.

It was at this point when I began to wonder if maybe all the music videos for the featured songs strung together with no pretence of a narrative would be more enjoyable. Still, it was mildly entertaining, though the only reason to not to wait to rent it is that movie theaters probably have a better audio system than you do.