Release Date: June 13, 2012
Director: Adam Shankman
Starring: Diego Boneta, Julianne Hough, Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand
Rock of Ages could do with a big fat disclaimer before each screening explaining that the 2005 musical was around long before Glee (and to a lesser extent, The Sopranos finale) ruined any good intentions Journey had with Don’t Stop Believin’. As both an unapologetic fan of musicals and Journey, I almost feel compelled to defend Rock of Ages from such associations from the word go.
This film adaptation by choreographer-turned-director Adam Shankman (Hairspray, Bedtime Stories) tells a familiar boy-meets-girl story set to the backdrop of 1980s classic rock. The relationship between the two lead characters, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta), develops through a largely predictable, cliche’d narrative arc which could be plotted out by the not-so-savvy viewer from act one, and there is little chemistry to be found in the majority of their Disney Channel-esq romance. However, Rock of Ages’ charm is drawn from the high-profile supporting cast who effectively work to save the film from becoming a completely banal watch, with some genuinely great performances throughout.
Much of the marketing material surrounding the film has focused on Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, our Axl Rose avatar in Rock of Ages. Jaxx is the hyper-sexual, pseudo-philosophical, egocentric, tardy, alcoholic lead singer of ‘Arsenal’ — a legendary rock act whom he deserts over the course of the film in order to pursue a solo career. If Tropic Thunder taught us anything it’s that Cruise has developed a penchant for occasionally self-depricting, deadpan, comedic performances in this recent phase of his career, and Jaxx is delivered with an earnestness which would not look out of place in This Is Spinal Tap.
Other highlights of the supporting cast include ageing rocker Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and the curiously-English Lonny Barnett (Russell Brand) as owners of the struggling Hollywood club ‘The Bourbon Room’, which is under siege by the hyper-conservative Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in an attempt to cleanse Los Angeles of rock ‘n’ roll and all it stands for. A decent number of recognisable faces crop up throughout including Paul Giamatti, Mary J Blige, Bryan Cranston and – in perhaps my favourite cameo appearance of all time – Eli Roth.
The music in Rock of Ages consists of a back catalogue of 80s high-energy rock and ballads, featuring a plethora of acts including David Lee Roth, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, Poison and, of course, Journey. Across the board the cast manage to carry the 21 musical numbers contained within the two hour run time reasonably well, with leads Boneta and Hough, as well as Zeta-Jones and Cruise, displaying particular vocal strength. The film is dense with well-choreographed musical performances, which more often than not ends up being of benefit as the dialogue-driven scenes tend to drain the energy out of the film. However, there is rarely anything musically interesting or original done with the songs featured – most of the the performances are so instrumentally and formally similar to their original versions that it is hard not to feel they come across as a cheap karaoke rendition, with the exception of a few mashups such as “We’re Not Going To Take It/We Built This City” which serve to freshen up the soundtrack.
Make no mistake, Rock of Ages is a musical. As redundant as that seems to say, know going in that there will be no more than 5 minutes of dialogue before the next character will break into song and dance, projecting their internal emotions through 1980s rock. There are some viewers who are totally comfortable with that and there are those who will cringe their way through it, and if you are the latter the film is not going to win you over any time soon. What results is a high-energy, entertaining, well-choreographed spectacle held up by a great supporting cast, but let down somewhat by a lack of originality, uninteresting central romance and poor direction during downtime between numbers.