While I can’t say that the words “rock” and “musical” seem like the most obvious choice for the cumulation of successful entertainment, Rock of Ages proves that a symphonic blend of 80’s rock’s best anthems, a kick-ass cast, and delightfully naughty humor will thrill both the rock lover and skeptic alike. A slew of fantastic medleys and memorable performances kicks Rock of Ages into high gear from the very start.
The movie largely focuses on the relationship between small-town girl Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) and bar back Drew Boley (Diego Boneta). While their relationship endures its ups and downs, so do the lives of the remaining characters. The Bourbon Room, a bar on the Sunset strip, is nearly ready to close. Owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) finds one saving grace in the fact that the hit band Arsenal has chosen his bar to play their last gig before their lead singer Stacee Jaxx begins his solo career. Unfortunately for Dennis, Stacee’s manager, the sleazy Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti), weasels his way out of the gig with the entire night’s takings.
In addition to The Bourbon Room’s money issues, another problem poses to be a threat – possibly to shut down the bar for good. Newly elected Mayor Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his loving wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are concerned for the youth of Los Angeles. Patricia’s personal vendetta becomes clear as the movie clips on, though her protests to promote a more wholesome atmosphere on the strip present a few fabulous opportunities for a musical number and a intensely comedic exchange.
Comedy fuels most of the movie, and the cast delivers fantastically. From one liners and punchy humor to moments of “did that just happen?”, the comedic surprises just keep coming, and from truly unexpected avenues. Two of my personal favorites were during a rendition of “I Want to Know What Love Is” and the fantastic duet that is presented during the REO Speedwagon classic “Can’t Fight This Feeling”.
Director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) keeps the energy high by drawing on the intensity from the cast, a veritable plethora of talent. From familiar faces like Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta Jones, Paul Giamatti, Malin Akerman, and Bryan Cranston, to the fresh faces of Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, and Russell Brand, this movie reeks of talent – in the most fantastic way possible. And of course, we shan’t forget the most surprising star – Mr. Tom Cruise himself. My skepticism was relentless on this one, and I wasn’t sure which Tom Cruise we were going to get this time around. Luckily, Cruise proves that he still has the “it” factor that he lost after the whole couch-jumping incident. His presence as the ultimate rock god Stacee Jaxx solidifies why he still maintains A-List status. From his eerie demeanor and ass-less pants that feature a devil’s head codpiece to the fact that his side kick is a creepy monkey with a temper named “Hey Man”, Stacee Jaxx oozes charisma, sex, and confidence – so much so that just the sight of him makes girls faint…literally.
Still, at its core, Rock of Ages is a sappy, over-done love story about two kids who fall in love, but for the typical ridiculous and pathetically predictable reasons, their relationship falls apart. “Will they find love with each other again?” is the question that is posed at the root of the plot. Luckily, the layers of the story that envelop this clichéd plot manage to be wickedly fun and full of guilty pleasures. Whether blatant and outright, such as during Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”, or more subdued and unexpected, like the rendition of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, the songs and story blend as harmoniously as the seamless choreography (by Mia Michaels) and voice talent of the cast.
Though rough at times (Alec Baldwin, anyone?), the singing in this movie was by far the biggest surprise for me. The last musical I forced my ears the torture of was Mamma Mia, and I thought my bleeding eardrums might never allow me to bear another attempt at a movie adaptation of a Broadway show. Thankfully, nearly everyone managed to soundly impress me. Obviously, the most impressive and unexpected vocal prowess came from Mr. Cruise himself. Boasting a supposed four octave vocal range, Cruise puts everything he’s got into his musical performance, and shows some serious chops in songs like Bon Jovi‘s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Def Leppard‘s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”
While I definitely feel like setting up camp in the Tom Cruise fan club once again, the entire cast didn’t necessarily hit all the right notes, so to speak. Newcomer to the big screen Diego Boneta lacks the right look come across credibly as bad ass rocker wannabe Drew; although, his character’s attempt to get a record deal spurs some fantastically atrocious costume changes. Julianne Hough proves that she has a monster voice, yet her acting fails to impress (though much of it could be thought of as intentionally cheesy to match the tone of that storyline). Still, what can be credited to the cast is their wholehearted devotion to the role, no matter how crazy things got on screen.
Crazy, sexy, hilarious, and raunchy – Rock of Ages is everything that makes summer movie-going worthwhile. My only regret is the lack of a sing-a-long option, as I had to fully restrain myself from jumping out of my seat and singing my heart out along to every song. Undoubtedly, I will be making it out to the theater for another viewing of this fantastic summer flick.
Rock of Ages – 8/10