Dan's Review: Rock of Ages

Alternate titles: "Pop of Ages," or "Karaoke of Ages."
Rock of Ages (Warner Bros.)

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking and language.

Starring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bryan Cranston, Malin Åkerman, Mary J. Blige, Alec Baldwin and Tom Cruise.

Written by Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo and Allan Loeb.

Directed by Adam Shankman.

GRADE: C+

REVIEW:


What happened to Rock and Roll? It used to be, only the cool people listened to it, played it, or created it. Now it seems that the "cool" factor associated with Rock music is all but dead, replaced with corporate sponsorships and karaoke games. I suppose it stopped being "all about the music" when some bean counter figured you could make a buck on it, and it's been all downhill from there, resulting in the likes of Nickleback and American Idol. Perhaps it was love of "the music" that led to the Broadway musical Rock of Ages and its movie version hitting theaters this weekend. Then again, was 1980s "hair band" music true "Rock?"

Rock of Ages is the story of two young dreamers, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta), who made the rock pilgrimage to the Sunset Strip in search of fame and fortune. They both end up at The Bourbon Room, owned by Dennis (Alec Baldwin), who is assisted by his longtime pal Lonny (Russell Brand) in helping new Rock groups get their start.

In the meantime, L.A.'s Mayor Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) is running for reelection on morality promises to clean up the Strip with the help of his overzealous Christian wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose Welsh accent slips every time she pronounces "Los Angeles" as "Luss Angeles"). Standing in the Mrs. Mayor's efforts is the Bourbon, with its slutty women and horny, long-haired rockers who cram into the club to party every night.

Dennis has his own troubles, and must come up with a large sum to cover the Bourbon's delinquent taxes or risk closure. He arranges to have the (fictional) headbanging rock group Arsenal play its final gig at the club just before its lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) embarks on a solo career.

Before the big Stacee Jaxx appearance, Sherrie and Drew fall in love. Both lovers are aspiring rock performers, and Drew is encouraged by Sherrie to get over his stage fright so he can audition as an opening act for Arsenal. Drew's band Wolfgang Von Colt is reluctantly given the prized gig by Dennis, but Drew sees Sherrie with Stacee and assumes she is being unfaithful to him. During his opening act Drew catches the attention of Stacee's slimy agent Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti), who encourages him to dump Sherrie and sign on with him for fame and glory.

Also on the night of the big Bourbon gig, Stacee has rough sexual encounter with Constance Sack (Malin Akerman), a writer for Rolling Stone. Jaxx is challenged by Constance over whether he's lost his edge and forgotten about what's really important. Despite Dennis' plan to save the club with the money from Arsenal's last performance, Gill takes all the money.

The young lovers have a bitter split, and Sherrie ends up as a stripper in a "gentleman's club" owned by Justice Charlier (Mary J. Blige), and Drew's rock-and-roll career is sidetracked when Gill puts him in a boy band.

As the players come to terms with their loves and dreams, they all end up back at the Bourbon one night, where their differences are resolved among a medley of rock tunes.

If you are a big fan of the 1980s "hair band" music era, Rock of Ages will be a fun escape for you. If not, then it will seem like a well-worn premise (going to Hollywood to follow your dreams of stardom) thrown together with a bunch of 80s songs. As for myself, I'm somewhere in the middle. Some of the songs are fun and cleverly sewn together into medelies, while others come across counter-intuitive, like uptight Christian woman singing Twisted Sisters' "We're Not Going to Take it" or Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." Music aside, the story in Rock of Ages is considerably weak and the humor is laden with rock culture cliches (the one exception is a very funny joke about whether it is less moral to be in a boy band versus being a stripper).

The so-called "rock" music in Rock of Ages is also a little suspect, at times trending into more of a "pop" feel with songs like Quarterflash's "Harden my Heart" and Starship's "We Built This City" (dubbed as the "Most Awesomely Bad Song...Ever." by Blender Magazine and VH1 a few years ago). Other songs by Journey, Night Ranger, Foreigner and REO Speedwagon might classify as "Rock" in the strictest sense, but critics and purists alike might also take issue with that. I grew up on this music, and remember strict lines drawn between the "true rockers" and those who considered the likes of Journey as "corporate sell-out rock." Personally, I enjoyed a wide array of such music in my teenage years, but it would have been better had Rock of Ages contained at least one Van Halen or AC/DC or even a Bruce Springsteen song. A little ZZ Top wouldn't hurt either.

Most of the singing performances in Rock of Ages are top notch, including the surprising Tom Cruise, who belts out head-banger hits like Guns-n-Roses' "Paradise City" and Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" quite effectively. Hough, Boneta, Zeta-Jones, Blige and Akerman are equally effective, while others in the supporting cast just barely skirt by (Baldwin, Brand and Giamatti).

It would seem that Rock of Ages was a lot of fun for the performers, but as a movie experience, it felt a lot like attending a very expensive karaoke bar. Unless you're the one singing, it feels a little like you'd rather see the real artists perform instead.

Another thing that some may take issue with is that the movie version of Rock of Ages bears little resemblance to the Broadway stage play...or so I hear.


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