Rock Of Ages

Rock Of Ages


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Stage musical adaptations are a tried and true movie studio strategy, and if there's one thing studios loves, it is a safe return trip to the same well in search of the next Grease. Get a bunch of A-list stars, cast them in a stage musical adaptation, and let audiences roll around the aisles in hysterics watching the aforementioned stars try to belt out classic ballads of yesteryear. Sit back and watch the dollars roll in. Consider the box office of the 2008 US/UK/German co-production of Mamma Mia - that adaptation has to date made over $144 million in the US and a staggering $600 million worldwide from a $50 million budget, and it became the highest grossing film released on British soil until Avatar in late 2009.

Director Adam Shankman, who once choreographed music videos, has form in this genre, having previously helmed 2007s Hairspray - another star studded adaptation of a well known stage musical which is at time of writing still ranked as the fifth highest grossing film musical in the US domestic box office charts, with a cool $200 million plus take worldwide. So it comes at no surprise that he is the guiding hand behind the new film version of Rock Of Ages, adapting the original stage musical whose book was written by Chris D'Arenzio (who also has a writing/producing role on the film). This film was probably even more of an easy sell to the studio execs given it also mines the ongoing trend for anything that taps into nostalgia for the 1980s.

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Rock Of Ages sees a small town girl and a city boy get together amidst the sweaty rock club scene that is the Bourbon Lounge on the Sunset Strip in LA, 1987. To provide suitable musical background to this back-of-an-envelope love story, there are the songs of Def Leppard, Foreigner, Journey, Poison, REO Speedwagon and Twisted Sister interspersed throughout, performed (with varying levels of skill and face/body contortions) by the cast. Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta get the somewhat thankless roles of the two young rock wannabees Sherrie and Drew, working in the Bourbon Lounge, hoping to eventually get their dreams of fronting rock bands off the ground. The Bourbon Lounge itself is a dank, Jack Daniels-soaked rock hellhole which in its glory days launched many a rock god's career, but now the owner Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and sidekick manager Lonny (Russell Brand) are just trying to keep the accountants off their backs.

Sherrie and Drew's dreams are both inspired, and soon derailed, by the fact that the Bourbon Club is about to bear witness to a titanic event- the return to the venue (which launched his career) of Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). The god of all rock gods, the somewhat mentally-frazzled Jaxx is about to leave his band Arsenal to go solo under the guiding hand of sleazy manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti). The Bourbon Club gig is to be his last performance as head of the band. Drew is jealous of the attention Sherrie seems to lavish on Jaxx, and this drives him away from the club and into the arms of Paul, who wants to to court the young rocker as the next big thing. Meanwhile, determined to use this event as a chance to bolster her conservative mayor husband's voting numbers with the religious vote lobby, mayoral spouse Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) plans a protest against Jaxx and the club. Spoiler Alert- its likely she will fail, and it will all end with a big rock concert unifying all the good guys. Were you really expecting anything else when you paid for your ticket to see this film?

Film adaptations of stage musicals do not rely simply on the appeal of classic songs - an A-List cast willing to contort and humiliate themselves and undermine their own image have long been the essential ingredient. Rock Of Ages has the magic bullet here in the form of Tom Cruise, billed on the film poster as being a supporting cast member, which of course means he is actually the film's main asset.

Shankman claims he wanted Cruise because only a legendary Hollywood icon would be suitable for playing a rock god. What he was probably also thinking is that the spaced-out, booze sodden, lurching figure of Jaxx would be a perfect fit for an actor long associated with otherwordliness. Even Cruise seems to have accepted this in recent years, winning plaudits for his prosthetic-heavy turn as a demented producer in 2008's Tropic Thunder, a role now seen as helping him find a new niche after a apparent self-inflicted decline following a series of bizarre media disasters, being dropped by Paramount, and questions over his links to Scientology. Cruise is by far the most entertaining thing in Rock Of Ages, and as with all his films, he looks like he is trying exceptionally hard. Or maybe, playing someone as bombed out as Jaxx, he doesn't have to try at all; it's hard to tell given how impenetrable Cruise is.

Cruise is well known in Hollywood for his fierce commitment to his roles, with probably only Daniel Day Lewis beating him in the intensity stakes. Unsurprisingly, he went through months of vocal training to prepare for the role of Jaxx. Cruise is actually teamed up in this film with a monkey which goes by the name of “HeyMan”. The monkey is usually dressed in military uniforms or leather cutoffs and pants, smashes a lot of stuff up, and pours Cruise drinks throughout. The two are a strangely apt pairing, and provide most of the laughs.

Outside of the moments when Cruise sways about on screen (he seems to have taken some lessons from Johnny Depp in that department ) the rest of the film is at best a huge slab of cheese served up on a bed of parmesan. Better casting would have helped - outside of Cruise, Shankman doesn't always get his casting picks right. It is not always an asset casting actors who are too close to their character's type - Russell Brand being a case in point, as he has probably had a life 200% more rock and roll than the character he is playing - as this removes the fun of watching actors send themselves up. Paul Giamatti, though, remains the go-to guy for characters like the sleaze ball sell-out manager Paul, and if you ever wanted to see Giamatti sing, here is your chance.

How much fun you get out of Rock of Ages will probably depend on a) How much you like listening to extremely familiar (and frankly tired) glam, hard rock and Eighties pop tunes served up in edited chunks, overlaid or mixed up with other songs. b) How much you like watching Emmy nominated actors like Bryan Cranston lose their dignity in a variety of ways - Cranston in one scene is whipped by a secretary who tans his hide using a ruler. c) How much you like Tom Cruise doing one of his even more out-there roles. d) How badly you want to see Paul Giamatti sing?

To give Shankman, cinematographer Nojan Bazelli, Production Designer John Hutman and Choreographer Mia Michaels credit, they can at least put on a well-coordinated big show. There is always plenty happening on a series of lavishly-dressed sets, particularly The Bourbon Room and a clutch of other Eighties Hollywood visual landmarks which are part of the film's Sunset Strip recreation, such as a Tower Records and The Roxy club. Fields of denim, leather trousers and cowboy hats ,stripper poles, curved staircases, giant hair, mirrored bar counters, and criminally mismatched colours - the Eighties window dressing is here in spades. Shankman wisely keeps the musical numbers coming fast and hard as there is little to fill the space in between - this script really needed a few zingers in the gaps as much as it needed a really standout song.

Reviewed on: 11 Jun 2012
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Rock Of Ages packshot
A young couple find their devotion to one another tested when they encounter Hollywood's wild side.

Director: Adam Shankman

Writer: Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo

Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti

Year: 2012

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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