I have a horrible feeling a lot of critics are going to rip into Rock Of Ages, but I for one loved it. While it has its problems, it made me smile about 30 seconds in and I was beaming when I came out. It’s silly, cheesy and sometimes verges on the ridiculous, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun, with a plethora of hair metal hits being shoe-horned in, Glee-style (or Mamma Mia! style, if you prefer).
The plot (which to be honest there isn’t a huge amount of) follows Sherrie, who arrives in LA from Oklahoma full of dreams of making it big in the City of Angels. She’s barely off the bus when she bumps into Drew (Diego Boneta), who gets her a job at the famed club, The Bourbon Room. Soon Sherrie and Drew are falling in love, but as the big time beckons for Drew, the course of true love won’t run smooth.
Mixed into this are various other stories, the main one involving the incredibly famous but rather spaced out and living in his own sex, drug and rock ‘n’ roll world, Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). He’s due to play his last gig as a member of the band Arsenal at the Bourbon Room before going solo, and just before going on stage comes across a young reporter (Malin Akerman) who rocks his world, while his manager (Paul Giamatti) reveals himself to be a dodgy dealer. There’s also a group of women, led by Catherine Zeta Jones, who are on a moral crusade to have The Bourbon Room shut down, while the broke owner (Alec Baldwin) tries to keep it open, as well as coming to a realisation about his relationship to his second-in-command (Russell Brand).
As you can tell from that synopsis, Rock Of Ages wouldn’t know an original plot point if one came and bit it on the ass. But that’s kind of the point. Not only does it take its endless parade of songs from the 1980s, but its slight story also self-consciously references the likes of Flashdance and Footloose. If the film has one major flaw it’s that it takes an awful long time to deal with very little plot (and also has a tendency to throw in story points, again casting back to other movies, that don’t go anywhere), but even so it doesn’t drag.
And the main reason it does run over two hours is that it manages to fit in a huge array of 80s classics, from Paradise City and Every Rose Has Its Thorn to Pour Some Sugar On It and the ubiquitous Don’t Stop Believin’. The likes of Sister Christian, Just Like Paradise and Nothin’ But A Good Time get into a mash-up and even REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight This Feeling gets a homoerotic makeover.
But the question many will be asking is, can Tom Cruise sing? Well, he can here, although I’d be interested to hear what his raw vocals sounded like, as I have the feeling he may have had a bit of electronic assistance. Indeed the whole cast sing their heart out, even Alec Baldwin, who seems well aware he isn’t likely to be launching a music career any time soon. One thing I found kinda interesting that in amongst all the film’s talk of what it takes to make it big in the music world (which here largely seems to consist of having someone believe in you and being in the right place at the right time), comes Mary J. Blige as the owner of a Hollywood strip club, who opens up her lungs and shows that at least in some cases, you make it big because you’ve got a set of pipes that blows everyone else’s away.
It really is in the music that Rock Of Ages comes alive. Director Adam Shankman (who’s gay, btw) comes from the world of choreography and previously helmed Hairspray, so he knows what he’s doing when it comes to staging a musical number. He has a great way of finding the heart of the song and situation, and putting that on screen in a lively, energetic fashion.
He starts things off cleverly, with Julianne Hough’s Sherrie breaking into song, only for her fellow bus passengers to quickly join in. It provoked giggles in the screening I attended, but it very quickly allows Rock Of Ages to set out its stall as a movie that’s going to be unabashedly daft and cheesy, and assures it’s left the real world behind before Sherrie arrives in Hollywood. From there on it’s one great song after another, with Shankman throwing in a few showstoppers. For example there’s a particularly impressive number that is essentially Bob Fosse meets pole dancing. It’ll certainly give you a new appreciation for the skill of the exotic dancer.
Rock Of Ages is also kind of interesting formally. The cast list is impressive and part of the reason for that is that it’s set up in a way so that each actor does most of their scenes with only one or two other people, meaning they wouldn’t need to be on set for the whole shoot (and therefore making their appearance that much cheaper) So, for example, Catherine Zeta-Jones is paired with Bryan Cranston, Diego Boneta with Julianne Hough, Alex Baldwin with Russell Brand, and Tom Cruise with Paul Giamatti and Malin Akerman. It makes little difference to the movie, but it’s an interesting way of doing things (and may well be a hangover from the original stage version).
To enjoy the movie, you do need a bit of a soft spot for slightly camp cheesiness and the hair metal hits of the 80s (although I’m not sure it’s possible to be a fan of the latter with an appreciation of the former). If you’re prepared to go along with it, you’ll have a great time. Like I said, I have a feeling a lot of critics will rip into the lack of plot, innate cheesiness, lengthy running time and some will probably feel what’s done to the likes of Journey, Def Leppard and Guns N Roses is sacrilege.
Stuff the naysayers though, as Rock Of Ages is great fun. Yes it’s silly and some of the jokes fall horribly flat (many appear to have been left in from the Broadway version, but don’t work on screen in the way they would on stage) but it’s all about making you feel good and it does that in spades. I left the cinema grinning and humming Every Rose Has Its Thorn, and it’s not every film that can do that!
Overall Verdict: It’s not for everyone, but if you fancy a bit of rather camp rock ‘n’ roll, all dressed up with a cheesy but fun story, loads of hairspray and Tom Cruise playing an all-singing, spaced out sex god, Rock Of Ages is the film for you! Yes, it’s just a bizarre as if sounds, and that’s a good thing.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac