What do you do with a successful off-Broadway musical from 2005? You take it to Broadway. What happens after it’s a hit there? Why, make it a movie, of course! In its live production form, Rock of Ages debuted 7 years ago in Los Angeles and after eventually transitioning to Broadway, the much-heralded concept hit the big screen this past weekend with some serious name-dropping in the cast. But did the film’s pop equal it’s payroll?
You bet. The film stars…well, where do I begin? Who is the main character anyway? That can be endlessly debated, so rather than expend an unnecessary breath in that futile argument, let me just spell out the who’s-who roster here. Tom Cruise plays fictional mega-rocker Stacee Jaxx, who, despite his massive fanbase and talent with a microphone, has mercilessly medicated himself with a vareity of hard liquor while engaging in a frustrating bout of unreliability when it comes to performance time. Due to play his last gig with his band Arsenal, Jaxx and his money-hungry manager (Paul Giamatti) gear up for what will be one unforgetable night at the popular Bourbon Room bar.
Meanwhile, Bourbon Room barback Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) strives to achieve his own dreams as the next big rock n’ roll star. Boley is a starstruck admirer of Jaxx, but jamming out hair metal tunes on stage isn’t the only focus in his life once one certain Oklahoma departure arrives on the streets of Hollywood. Enter Sherrie (Julianne Hough), who has her own intentions of reaching the bigtime as a major vocalist. Unfortunately for her, Hollywood welcomes the starlet-wannabe with open arms in the form of one eager street thief. Quick to the damsel’s rescue, Boley lands Sherrie a job alongside him in the famous music hotspot on the Sunset Strip.
Simultaneoulsy, Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), is going through the been-there-done-that scenario of trying to save his floundering establishment. Acting as a sidekick of sorts is Russell Brand’s character, Lonny, who basically gets paid to drink and serve as the occasional MC at the club. Yeah, minus the sidekick, the ”we’re losing the business” plot has been done before, but with Baldwin’s versatile talent and acting opposite Russell Brand, layered with a heaping dose of rock, the situation had new life breathed into it, making it a good fit in its cinematic presentation.
You can’t have a good story without a solid antagonist, which in this case is played by the lovely Catherine Zeta-Jones. Zeta-Jones takes on the role of self-righteous L.A. mayoral wife Patricia Whitmore. Whitmore and her band of un-merry ladies serve as a roadblock to the Bourbon Room’s future, while also exclaiming the damning evil and alleged poison that both Jaxx and rock n’ roll breed in the public’s ears and mind.
Speaking of Poison, the soundtrack of Rock of Ages is arguably its strongest point. The film’s music is spawned from early 80′s rock acts such as Journey and Pat Benetar to the late 80′s hair metal superpowers of Poison, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard…and that’s only scratching the surface here. Count in Foreigner, Night Ranger, Guns n’ Roses and Twisted Sister and we still haven’t named them all. The cast sings the tunes themselves in convincing enough fashion. Some, like Mary J. Blige, excel at the art, while strangers to the singing industry, like Paul Giamatti, even come up strong enough to maintain the entertainment factor. Yes, even Tom Cruise sings, and while he may have had some sound studio help, I can honestly say I enjoyed it all from the film’s opening scene to the end.
The acting was varied throughout the film’s runtime. Tom Cruise thrives as the often intoxicated Stacee Jaxx. Is it award worthy? No, but it does conjure prospective images to mind of what it must’ve been like to be Axel Rose 20 years ago. Baldwin and Brand had good comedic chemistry. Hough and Boneta didn’t quite seem to have that exceptional teaming romantic match, though all things considered, it was well enough to make its way through the film. Mary J. Blige, while she had a small acting part, delivered it proficiently. Catherine Zeta-Jones looked awkward in her dance routines at times but I give the lady credit for giving it a bash and having a good time with it. Giamatti, being the stellar actor he is, easily slid into the slimy skin of the greedy music boss he portrayed.
One of the main criticisms of the film that I’ve come across is that something is lost in translation from the stage show to the movie. Regrettably, I have not seen the stage version yet, so I can’t speak in favor or against this complaint. Yet, at the same time, I definitely feel some similarly described disruption of consistency at times. I can’t put my finger on it other than a barrage of music that’s sparsely populated with dedicated acting sequences, followed by fragments of time that focus more on the acting than the singing, only having it revert back to the majority focus on the music. For the most part, this steals from strength of story to the novelty of the soundtrack.
At the end of the day, this film is rock star (pun intended). It was a fun musical romp that I enjoyed a great deal and will easily be a day one Blu-ray purchase for me. Make no mistake, this is not a family film as it heavily flirts with a good content of sexual tension. In short, keep the kiddies at home. Teenagers and adults alike will have fun with this one that combines a disproportionate ratio of tongue-in-cheek delivery with some good old fashioned kick ass rock n’ roll. In a radio era tainted with the likes of debacles such as Nicki Minaj, it’s refreshing to revisit the electric guitar days of yesterday in Rock of Ages. Hats off to director Adam Shankman for a job well done.