Friday, June 15, 2012
Movie review: Rock of Ages
Vulgar but corny musical fails to hit any high notes.
At least director Adam Shankman can make this material tolerable. He directed the big-screen version of Hairspray (2007), which was an absolute delight. The tone here is often lighter and sillier, but unless you’re really nostalgic for Aqua Net and leather pants, you’ll be wincing at most of the musical numbers. (“If I have to hear one more Poison song...” I thought many times.) And despite having a credited choreographer, most of the onscreen dancing is little more than the actors writhing.
But sometimes you just have to admire a movie so aware of its own ridiculousness. That starts early when a bus full of riders sings Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” to the protagonist (Julianne Hough). She’s Sherrie, an Oklahoma native who takes a bus to L.A. to follow her dreams of being a singer. Before you can make a “Which restaurant do you work at?” joke, she’s waiting tables at the Bourbon Room. She also falls hard for bar-back/aspiring rock star Drew (Diego Boneta), and they serenade each other with the ’80s shallowest love longs, including Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” Warrant’s “Heaven,” and, worst of all, Extreme’s “More than Words.”
Their love will be tested by Drew’s newfound fame after his debut gig at the Bourbon and a lame misunderstanding. He thinks Sherrie succumbed to the temptations of Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise, who looks like he just woke up from a nap), the charismatic, Satan-worshiping, ab-tastic lead singer of Arsenal.
This is a big change from the Broadway show. The movie makes him much less of a creep, fashioning him into “The Loneliest Cowboy,” as a Rolling Stone headline proclaims. He may be an unhinged, alcoholic rock star with a pet baboon, but like Foreigner (again), he just wants to know what love is and he wants you to show him. He declares as much while undressing a Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman).
The movie is almost wall-to-wall sex, and I’m surprised it got away with a PG-13 rating. There are multiple sex scenes and routines at the strip club where Sherrie ends up working. It’s all stylish and not at all sexy. And it’s at odds with the movie’s otherwise playful tone.
The rest of the cast includes Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mayor’s zealous wife, who leads a campaign to shut down the Bourbon Room. Then there’s Paul Giamatti as Stacee and Drew’s sketchy manager and Alec Baldwin as the Bourbon Room’s owner. Both of them look one cheeseburger away from a heart attack. And we’ve got Mary J. Blige, the one legitimate singer in the whole cast. Too bad she can’t act at all. Her presence creates a weird spotlight effect: The other actors spotlight what a poor actress she is, and she spotlights what poor singers the rest of the cast are. The movie also wastes the supreme talents of Bryan Cranston (TV’s Breaking Bad).
Rock of Ages does all of this in two hours, which is far too long for this thin material. Yet, it’s still watchable. I can’t recommend Rock of Ages on any level, but at least it wasn’t the train-wreck I thought it would be. There are enough fun moments (like Baldwin and Russell Brand’s duet of REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” and T.J. Miller’s cameo as a Rolling Stone editor) to keep it from disaster.
For showtimes for Rock of Ages, click here.