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Review: Rock of Ages (2012)

Rock of Ages (2012)

Directed by: Adam Shankman

Premise: A musical set in the hair metal scene of 1987. A young woman from the Midwest arrives in Los Angeles to purse a music career.

What Works: Rock of Ages will appeal to viewers of a certain age who have a nostalgic love of 1980s hair metal. The film finds the appropriate tone between reverence and ridicule, enjoying the music while also poking fun at the fashions of the period. There is a lot to enjoy in the musical performances and several of them have some impressive showmanship. At its best, Rock of Ages is very funny and it has a self-consciously lewd sense of humor that is befitting the material. The common denominator of all of Rock of Ages’ best scenes is Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, the front man of fictional band Arsenal and a composite of Bret Michaels of Poison and Axl Rose of Guns and Roses. Like his cameo in Tropic Thunder, Tom Cruise has an intense presence and the movie picks up whenever he is on screen.

What Doesn’t: With Tom Cruise cast as Stacee Jaxx and the filmmakers’ demonstrated capacity for dirty humor and visual flair, Rock of Ages could have been a great film along the lines of This is Spinal Tap. But Cruise is relegated to a supporting role and instead the filmmakers of Rock of Ages turn their focus to a romance between a pair of aspiring musicians played by Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta. The two actors are not up to the task, especially Hough who is deadweight on the screen. There is no romantic spark between the characters and the story gives them nothing to do except gaze longingly at each other between musical montages. The primary narrative of Rock of Ages, such as it is, runs through the starving artist romance story and the film drags its main characters through every show biz cliché from waiting tables and hanging out at the Hollywood sign to breaking up over a misunderstanding and reuniting through music. There is also a pair of subplots, one of Stacee Jacxx and his unraveling relationship with his slimy manager (Paul Giamatti) and the other of an anti-rock moral crusader (Catherine Zeta-Jones) out to clean up the Sunset Strip. These storylines are also a thin string of clichés, working through conceits done better in dramatic films like The Doors and Ray but also in parodies like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Hairspray.  But to say Rock of Ages follows a formula is barely accurate because the story is so thin. Rock of Ages jumps from one musical number to the next in which the cast covers famous rock and hair metal songs of the 1980s with little in between. This is the latest film in a trend of musicals that cover of pop hits such the films Across the Universe and Burlesque and television shows like High School Musical and Glee. But by its end, Rock of Ages isn’t reminiscent of those musicals so much as it is of the 2011 action-adventure film Sucker Punch. Just as that film moved from one overproduced action set piece to another, Rock of Ages clobbers the audience with hair metal covers that are not connected together with any meaningful narrative tissue. Because there is nothing to these characters or their stories, the musical sequences are little more than high profile actors performing karaoke and for all its showmanship, Rock of Ages gets really boring.

Bottom Line: Rock of Ages may be enjoyed by those who have a soft spot for the rock music of the 1980s and with time it may even become a cult picture. But it is an obnoxious film that, like the musical era it invokes, is not nearly as rebellious as it thinks it is.

Episode: #393 (June 24, 2012)