“Rock of Ages” follows in the same footsteps of “Hairspray,” adapting a hit musical to the big screen, assembling an all-star cast, and hiring Adam Shankman to direct. This formula worked so well before that “Rock of Ages” should be another instant classic.
The film does have some entertaining moments and was obviously made with a lot of passion. But all the energy in the world can’t make up for the film’s lack of focus, structure, and originality. Especially when stacked up against the magnificent “Hairspray,” “Rock of Ages” is kind of forgettable.
The leading lady is Sherrie Christian, a small-town girl who dreams of becoming a star. Like we haven’t seen that character in a million other musicals…oh except for in “Funny Girl,” “A Star is Born,” “Fame,” “Chicago,” “Moulin Rouge,” and of course “Hairspray.” Julianne Hough, a rising talent whose previous credits include the remake of “Footloose,” plays Sherrie in a charismatic performance. She moves to Hollywood to fulfill her dream but instead finds love. Enter Diego Boneta as Drew Boley, a busboy who also aspires to be a rock ‘n’ roll star.
Drew gets Sherrie a job at The Bourbon Room, a Rock ‘n’ Roll club run by Alec Baldwin’s Dennis Dupree, a veteran rock lover. He manages the bar alongside the longhaired, English rocker Lonny Barnett, played by the perfectly cast Russell Brand. With taxes piling up, the only way for Dennis and Lonny to save the bar is to find a performer who will pack the house. They’re prayers are answered when they book Stacee Jaxx, a fading rock ‘n’ roll legend played by Tom Cruise. Stacee is being held back by Paul Gill, his greedy manager played by Paul Giamatti. That’s right, Paul Giamatti is in a musical. Fortunately, he doesn’t do that much singing.
The most pleasant surprise in the movie is Tom Cruise as Stacee. Cruise might seem like the most bizarre casting choice for a musical since Pierce Brosnan in “Mamma Mia!” Yet, he totally pulls off this drunken party animal that flaunts about as if he is a living God. Cruise even establishes that he’s a pretty good singer. It’s actually surprising that it has taken him this long to do a musical. Plus, his character has a pet baboon named “Hey Dude,” which is pretty awesome.
Catherine Zeta-Jones also stars as Patricia Whitmore, the plastic wife of the mayor who is determined to abolish rock music. Given the Oscar she won for “Chicago,” Zeta-Jones should probably be the best performer here. Her character is unfortunately a disappointment though. There are a million things the writers could have done with this villain. But she never hatches any diabolical schemes, abuses her position of power, or says anything that menacing or funny. Her entire character could have been cut out entirely and it wouldn’t have impacted the movie in the slightest.
The strongest aspect of “Rock of Ages” is its music. The film covers the greatest rock hits of the late eighties, including “I Wanna Rock,” “We Built This City,” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.” All of these songs are effectively integrated into the plot much like in the Beatles Jukebox musical, “Across the Universe.” Baldwin and Brand’s duet of “Can’t Fight This Feeling” is a particular riot.
With sensational music and a cast that’s mostly put to good use, “Rock of Ages” comes close to working. The film’s ultimate downfall is in the story department. “Rock of Ages” attempts to juggle a number of stories about falling in love, selling out, saving a rock ‘n’ role safe haven, fighting against the system, getting back on top, and struggling to become famous. Better writers might have been able to properly work these subplots into a single narrative. In “Rock of Ages” though, the story structure just feels clumsy as main characters disappear for large fractions of the movie. It doesn’t help that all of these stories play out in such a cliché fashion. Sherrie and Drew’s romance notably results in one of those annoying misunderstandings that could be resolved in seconds if only they would talk matters through.
There’s much to admire in “Rock of Ages” and a lot of people are likely to enjoy it. The film is almost worth checking out for what it is, rather than for what it isn’t. But its faults simply outweigh everything that’s great about the film. Given what it could have been, “Rock of Ages” is a letdown. The soundtrack on the other hand, is an absolute must own.
Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org