When was the last time there was a truly great film musical? Probably the closest would be ‘Sweeney Todd’ in 2007, but ever since, they’ve usually been severely disappointing. Nowadays, the most music you’ll get in a cinema is a vapid 3D performance of some tweenager live concert. That’s the uphill battle faced by ‘Rock of Ages’, the newest stage-to-screen adaptation with all the resources of a studio thrown behind it. It has a stellar cast, great music and a director already proven proficient in the genre. But can it fill the hole that seems to have only gotten bigger with every passing year?
Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) is just a small town girl in 1987, living in the lonely world of Tulsa, Oklahoma. She catches the midnight bus going to Hollywood, following her dreams to become a singer... only to get mugged the minute she steps onto Sunset Strip. To her rescue comes Drew (Diego Boneta), a bartender at the infamous Bourbon Bar who wants to be a rock star. In the midst of their budding romance is a fight to save the famous music venue from bankruptcy. As his last hope, Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), the bar’s owner, turn to an old friend for help - rock god and superstar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), who brings with him a whirlwind of the guarantee of a sell-out concert and a whole lot of trouble.
Director Adam Shankman proved himself a real talent with his spectacular musical adaptation of ‘Hairspray’ (2007), one of the best film musicals of the last decade. His talents are still intact with ‘Rock of Ages’, with an inherent understanding of how to make musical storytelling and cinema work hand-in-hand. However, there is one major difference - while ‘Hairspray’ was a cleverly constructed musical, ‘Rock of Ages’ is very much not. A recent example of the ‘jukebox musical’, it is a paltry and predictable narrative constructed around a playlist of classic 80’s rock songs, and it just doesn’t hold water. Shankman and the screenwriters (including Justin Theroux) try their best to hold it together, and hiring such a talented cast helps immensely, but there’s just no way to get around the fact that, in the end, ‘Rock of Ages’ just isn’t a very good musical.
ROCK OF AGES - TRAILER
The most surprising thing is, though, that everyone involved seems to be very aware of this, and never takes it too seriously. There’s a wonderful, playful irreverence to the whole film, and Shankman’s terrific comic timing and sense of humour comes out at the best of times. The cast also help along, with most of them pitching their performances just that bit higher, that little bit over-the-top. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti and Alec Baldwin are real pros at this, and help to make the more ridiculous plot points at least bearable. Hough and Boneta are lovely as the romantic leads, complicit in the joke but giving the film the grounding it needs. And Tom Cruise is simply delicious as Jaxx, a faulting entrance giving way to an hysterical performance, riffing on his own experiences with superstardom. Every scene he’s in falls into some surreal alternate universe, where nothing he says or does makes very much sense, but Cruise is an actor in control of everything he does, as well as his antsy baboon companion Hey Man. And, thankfully, he can sing a tune as well.
There are far too many characters to follow, and some of them, like Mary J. Blige’s strip club madam Justice, just seem to be there to move the plot forward and have about as much character as a piece of cardboard. The final film might not leave a lasting impression, but it’s a fun few hours with some great songs and wonderfully tongue-in-cheek humour. Also, the film is surprisingly filthy and racy, with more tongues that you might ever want to see in one film. A real highlight is Cruise and Malin Ackerman’s duet to ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’, which goes in a completely unexpected direction. You’ll see Tom Cruise do things you never thought you would see him do.
We’ve needed a new musical classic in a while, and unfortunately, ‘Rock of Ages’ isn’t it. It’s as though the creators of the musical decided it needed to end with ‘Don’t Stop Believin’, and built a story around that. The music is great though, and the performances are fun, so if you’re in the mood for some light entertainment for a few hours, it’s not the worst choice in the world. Just don’t expect it to set your world on fire.
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