What do Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Guns N’Roses, Journey, Poison, and Twisted Sister have in common? They represented the nadir of glam metal/hair bands, of pop rock and execrable Top 40s hits revisited in Rock of Ages.
They’re gone, but sadly not forgotten, relegated to “classic rock” stations. They also provided the source music for Rock of Ages, the hit off-Broadway jukebox musical that Hollywood-based executives, in their non-infinite wisdom, presumed, despite evidence to the contrary, would, with the proper cast and a seasoned director, become the next, great Hollywood musical or at minimum a profitable one. Moviegoers might prove the latter true, but there’s little doubt as to the former. Rock of Ages may be the next Hollywood musical, but mediocrity, let alone greatness, is far beyond its childlike grasp.
Directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, The Pacifier, A Walk to Remember) with an eye and ear toward cringe-inducing, campy excess, Rock of Ages nominally centers on Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough), a naïve country girl new to the sights and wonders of the City of Angels, and Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), a barback (and wannabe rock star) at the Bourbon Room, a Sunset Strip club run by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin, intentionally sporting a bad wig). Like every small-town girl who leaves home for a big city East or West, North or South, Sherrie wants to be a star, a singing star, but she postpones her dreams in exchange for a gig as a waitress at the Bourbon Room and a maudlin, montage-heavy romance with Drew.
Rock of Ages only comes alive (“alive” being a relative word here) when Stacie Jaxx (Tom Cruise) finally makes his entrance. He’s the stumbling, mumbling embodiment of every rock star cliché. On the cusp of going solo after a financially successful career as the front man for Arsenal, Jaxx returns to the Bourbon Room for one last concert, in part as a favor to Dupree. Jaxx’s manager, Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti), the personification of the slimy, sleazy manager, has other plans for the proceedings from Jaxx’s last performance. He spots the next-big-thing Drew, an emergency opener for Arsenal, and signs him to a predictably Faustian contract. Jaxx verbally clashes with a frizzy-haired, Rolling Stone reporter, Constance Sack (Malin Akerman), eager to make a name for herself by exposing Jaxx’s personal and professional failings.
In a subplot absent from the stage musical, the mayor’s (Bryan Cranston) wife, Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a Holy Roller type on an anti-rock crusade, organizes a lukewarm effort to shut down the Bourbon Room. Zeta-Jones, an Oscar winner for [i]Chicago[/i], does her level best with poorly written, poorly integrated material, but emerges relatively unscathed given the minimal time she’s actually onscreen. With the exception of Cruise as Jaxx, the cast makes practically no impression, least of all the two nominal leads. While both Hough and Boneta can carry an (auto) tune, their respective voices and vocal ranges are often ill suited to the material. Hough fares slightly better than Boneta, but that’s due in part to the goodwill engendered by her scene-stealing turn in the Footloose remake. Her voice noticeably strains when she’s asked to sing Pat Benatar’s best-known song, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
Hough, however, isn’t well served by a script credited to Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, and Allan Loeb, but then again, no one is. Everything is written, performed, and directed for the broadest laughs possible, but Theroux, D’Arienzo, and Loeb somehow failed to include humor that didn’t depend on a constant barrage of condescension and mockery of the characters, the time period, and the glam/hair metal. Without Cruise as Jaxx, Rock of Ages would have been unwatchable. With Cruise,Rock of Ages is, at best, barely tolerable and only when Cruise is front-and-center playing the dissolute rock star.
Tags: Alec Baldwin, Bon Jovi, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Guns N’Roses, Journey, Poison, Rock of Ages, Tom Cruise, Twisted Sister