Runtime: 2 HR, 7 MIN
Director: Adam Shankman
Writers: Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, Allan Loeb, and Chris D’Arienzo
Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Mary J. Blige, Malin Ackerman, and Tom Cruise
This generation’s musicals haven’t and probably never will reach the level of popularity the genre experienced from the 1930s through the 1960s. Musicals started to struggle in late 60s and by the 80s they were almost a complete non-entity at the box office. Hollywood, the music industry, and audiences have changed far too much for the musical to ever reach its golden era level of popularity again. To a small degree musicals have been on the mend since the early 2000s but just like any Broadway musical, the show is only as strong as its weakest link which based on Rock of Ages could spell disaster for the genre.
Singing hopeful Sherrie (Julianne Hough) arrives in LA from Tulsa with big dreams. Predictably things don’t go as planned but she’s rescued by a fellow amateur musician/bartender Drew (Diego Boneta) who gets her a job at the infamous Bourbon Room who will soon be hosting the farewell concert for the world famous Arsenal starring eccentric rock star Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). The Bourbon Room’s owner Dennis (Alec Baldwin) needs this concert to be a huge success to stay in business while a corrupt, religious minded, rock n’ roll hating politician (Catherine Zeta-Jones) plans on shutting down The Bourbon Room and taking Stacee Jaxx down with it.
If I was forced to describe Rock of Ages in one word it would be “embarrassing.” Picking just one word to describe Rock of Ages isn’t an easy task by any means because it is a complete cinematic mess from start to finish. Many adjectives would be more than fitting to describe my feeling towards the film; many of them you’ll read in this review.
Almost from the moment the credits end there’s an apparent lack of consistency in regard to Rock of Ages’ tone. For a film that’s based on a light hearted, comedic play Rock of Ages as a film isn’t much fun. Is it a comedy or a drama? It certainly doesn’t appear that the filmmakers have an answer to that question and that confusion carries over to the cast. I found myself laughing at things that I doubt were meant to humorous while many of the obvious attempts at humor fell completely flat. Tom Cruise and Malin Ackerman seemed to get the joke whereas Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and even Alec Baldwin played it so straight I have a hard time believing that anyone explained to them that the stage version of the show isn’t nearly as heavy as they portrayed it here.
Rock of Ages features a good mix of classic 80s tunes but the execution of those songs leaves a lot to be desired when compared to Moulin Rouge or Mama Mia! I haven’t seen Shankman’s previous musical effort, Hairspray so I can’t draw comparisons between the two films and their musical numbers but I never felt like the actors were actually singing their parts. It states clearly in the credits that the stars sang their own parts and of course sound looping is used in post production but I can’t help but think a lot of ‘auto-tune’ was used. With that said Julliane Hough still sounds eerily similar to one of the Chipettes from Alvin and the Chipmunks.
The non-musical aspects of the film are largely tedious and the few serious moments that work are usually undermined by bizarre forced humor. A perfect example of this is Tom Cruise’s role; his story arc attempts to show some character growth related to his increasing dissatisfaction with his personal and professional life. Every step in the right direction is marred by the inclusion of an actual baboon that is usually dressed up in a funny outfit, smoking or drinking, and is screeching at the top of his lungs at the source of Stacee Jaxx’s attention. If you’re going to cast Tom Cruise in a musical, feature him in the ads as the quote on quote star of the film you probably shouldn’t undermine his performance by having his scenes ruined by a well trained primate.
It’s not surprising that Tom Cruise is so heavily advertised because the “star” power in Rock of Ages is laughably poor. Julianne Hough continues to be an acting black hole from which there is no escape. Back when Footloose (review HERE)was released I said the following, “She has the emotional range of wet paper sack filled with newspapers and her typical facial expression reminds me of Droopy the Basset Hound from the old MGM cartoons.” All of that is still true except now she unfortunately sings as well. Equally bad is 90210′s Diego Boneta who oozes rock ‘n roll about as much as Julianne Hough oozes “Future Academy Award Winner.” The fact that he emits more of a boy band mentality is fittingly addressed in the film but that doesn’t make it anymore tolerable. The remaining cast doesn’t fare much better; Russell Brand is his usual “charming” self, Catherine Zeta-Jones comes off as desperate to stay relevant, and Alec Baldwin is a wasted talent in a crappy wig.
Rock of Ages is far too long but not only that its timeline is ludicrous. For instance Sherrie gets off the bus and almost immediately we’re treated to a “falling in love” montage only to find out that only a few days have passed. The entire film is like that, if you didn’t know better you’d say months or even a year had gone by only to find out that the entire film’s events all took place in about three weeks.
Not only is Rock of Ages a bad musical it’s just a poorly made film plain and simple. It’s not nostalgic enough for those that enjoyed 80′s rock the first time around and nor is its camp attractive to older or younger audiences just interested in it because it’s a musical. Tom Cruise is going to take a lot of blame for Rock of Ages which really isn’t fair, he did the best with what he was given and was routinely undercut by an animal that’s paid in bananas (and I’m not referring to Julianne Hough). Rock of Ages might sell a lot soundtracks but it’s certainly not going to sell a lot of tickets.