For those of you who were live blogging the TONY awards the other night I imagine Rock of Ages is a movie for you. If you can’t get enough “Back to the Eighties with Joe Cortese” you are going to LOVE this movie. If you do not feel passionately about either you may want to sit this one out. Rock of Ages brings all the music of the eighties back to life, and at times you may find yourself singing along with the music. But the movie has trouble deciding if it wants to be campy fun or be taken seriously. If you still find yourself excited about Def Leppard, Foreigner, and Journey going on tour then get prepared to rock out and have a great time at the movies.
The movie opens up on a distinct note as we see Julianne Houghas who plays Sherrie traveling on a bus to LA to become rich and famous. All of a sudden she starts singing “Sister Christian” and the bus joins in with her. It is a surreal moment that makes the audience laugh and believe that this is what can be expected the rest of the way. But the movie is all over the place and jumps around from scene to scene. Director Adam Shankman, who also did Hairspray, seems to be a little bitout of his comfort zone in this one. Where as Hairspray was intended for people who loved the show, Rock of Ages also has crossover appeal to an entire decade of music lovers. So he seems to divide his interest. In fact it is split down the middle in terms of moment of hilarity and tense moments of drama. But fans of the Broadway show may notice that it doesn’t quite develop the same way the original show did. But let’s not lie you are here for the songs, not the story.
There are a couple of numbers that stand out, one of them being the performance that has been on all the promotional videos and that’s Tom Cruise doing “Wanted.” He actually does a surprisingly good job. Now don’t mistake that for it being anywhere near as good as the original, but he certainly holds his own and they do a great job with the scene. There is also a mash-up in the opening 15 minutes of “Just Like Paradise” and “Nothin But A Good Time” which shows just why Diego Boneta gets his feature film debut as the male lead. But the show stealing may go to Alec Baldwin and Russel Brand for their duet in the latter half of the movie.
But just as there were good numbers there are also ones that fell flat. Haven’t we all had enough of “Don’t Stop Believing” yet? It is the movies final song and is written as the ultimate rock song but when I think of rock, Steve Perry is not the first man to come to mind. With shows like “Family Guy,” “The Sopranos” and “Glee” all using this song can’t we all hold hands and agree this song has jumped the shark. However the song that sticks out the most is Catherine Zeta-Jones doing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” It stands out because of just how out of place it seemed, as the characters broke out into dance during the number which didn’t really happen the rest of the movie unless there was already dancing going on. In fact the inclusion of Zeta-Jones and Bryan Cranston seemed unnecessary to the movie and probably detracted from the main plot, which is unfortunate as she has clearly proven herself as a Broadway babe before in the likes of Chicago and A Little Night Music. The movie also slows down a lot during the second act of the movie, and not that I don’t appreciate the power ballads of the eighties, it probably would have served the story better if it didn’t ruin the pacing of the movie.
While perhaps Catherine Zeta Jones character wasn’t necessary to the quality of the story the other supporting characters were pretty good. Alec Baldwin and Russel Brand were fantastic in their roles supplying some much needed comic relief. As soon as Mary J. Blidge popped on the screen I kept wishing for more of her. I’m sure she had a much deeper story and better connection with Sherrie but we never see it developed. A lot of the story focuses on Paul Giamatti as the slimy band manager and Malin Akerman as a Rolling Stone reporter who was never in the play but plays an important part to the development of Stacee Jaxx. Jaxx as you no doubt know is played by Tom Cruise, and if there is one thing Cruise knows how to play is out of touch crazy. To date his best role may be Magnolia and is a prime example of just how crazy he can play, but more recently he was awesome in Tropic Thunder. I expected very little out of him in this Broadway hit, but he actually does really well and even worked with Bret Michaels and Axel Rose’s vocal coach to nail the part. You may also want to keep a look out for the numerous cameos in this movie as eighties rock stars can be seen throwing their support behind rock and roll.
It is good they had a strong supporting cast of veteran actors because the lead characters are relative newbies. Julianne Hough has been in other movie musicals, namely Burlesque and Footloose, but may be best known for her work on “Dancing With The Stars.” She is a natural on camera on stands as an equal to the other actors she performs with. She has a fantastic voice and is a great dancer and fits the part well. Diego Boneta as Drew Boley struggles though, while a perfect pick for the songs that were selected, namely songs similar to Journey, it would have been nice to see someone with a little more rock to his voice. He also doesn’t quite have the same presence as those around him which is why it is so important for him to have a quality ensemble to work with. I would have loved to see Constantine Maroulis from American Idol and the original Broadway lead get the part, but at the age of 36 he may have been too old for the producer’s taste.
Fans of the show may object to the changes made to the movie, and they certainly have grounds to the objection. The movie takes all the characters in complete different directions. But it was Chris D’Arienzo who made the changes to the movie and since he wrote the book for the musical the changes he makes still fit, they all just end up in different spots than where the musical took them. And for those who have not seen the musical they may actually prefer the changes as they fit the medium better. Overall this is a fun, campy movie and fans of the music will walk away with a smile on their face and a tune on their lips. The rest of you, well at least you get to walk away. C (For my eighties fans B)