ROCK OF AGES showcases 80s music and brilliant performance by Tom Cruise, but dull story drags it down several notches.

Rock of Ages

Blu-ray/DVD Review:  ROCK OF AGES (2012)

by

Michael Arruda

The 1980s. 

Ah, the memories!  From the music— Journey, Foreigner, Pat Benatar— to the hair— hey, it’s Linda Hamilton!— to the clothes and the stars— Ah-nold will be right back— to the pure fun—  ah, the good old days!  And the goofy musical ROCK OF AGES (2012), which I recently caught up with on Blu-ray, captures these memories like a snapshot, but nostalgia can only carry a movie so far, especially one with a dull plot like this one.

Young, idealistic Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) arrives in Hollywood in 1987 to become a star—yawn, wake me when we get to a real plot.  She meets and becomes involved with a young singer Drew Boley (Diego Bonata) who sets her up with a waitressing gig at the famous Bourbon rock club, owned and operated by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin).

The Bourbon club is in huge financial trouble, but Dupree plans to save the club by booking the final performance of famous rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) an event which should make the club lots of money.  But this isn’t as easy as it sounds, as Dupree has to deal with constant  public protests led by outspoken Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the wife of Los Angeles mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston), who believes the club and rock and roll in particular are sinful things that are poisoning society—cliché, cliché, cliché— as well with Jaxx’s unscrupulous manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) who’s always looking out for just one person, himself, not to mention Jaxx himself who is constantly in a drugged out daze and is the embodiment of the eccentric demanding superstar- a monkey named “Hey, Man” plays a prominent role in his entourage.

It is against this backdrop that Sherrie and Drew try to make names for themselves as singers and musicians, while at the same time they sort out their feelings for each other.

By far, the worst part of ROCK OF AGES is its lame brained plot, laden with clichés and familiar situations, with a story that provides no real conflict.  The screenplay by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, and Allan Loeb is nothing more than a standard vehicle in which to feature 1980s rock music.

Do I really care if young Sherrie and Drew make it as singers in Hollywood?  Absolutely not!  They are both incredibly dull, the least interesting characters in the movie.  They have no depth and no real problems.  They struggle to make it in Hollywood because everybody struggles to make it in Hollywood.  There really isn’t anything special about them.

Then there’s the even worse subplot involving Patricia Whitmore’s attempts to shut down the Bourbon club. Nothing that comes out of Whitmore’s mouth resonates in any way, as her dialogue consists of one empty platitude after another.

Now, I get that ROCK OF AGES is supposed to be a silly and playful, in the spirit of the classic goofy musical, but silliness works best when it’s built on truth.  If Patricia Whitmore had anything real to say, then her over-the-top subplot would have worked because at the base of it all you’d be saying, “I hear what she’s saying, so that’s pretty funny.”  Instead, you’re left with “that’s all she’s saying?  That’s not funny.”

It’s a wasted role for Catherine Zeta-Jones.  In fact, the A-List cast— reduced to supporting roles to begin with— is largely squandered, with the exception of Tom Cruise, who’s terrific.

Bryan Cranston has it even worse than Jones.  He’s has so little to do here he might as well have been  replaced by a mannequin.  Why bother paying a top actor to appear in such a do-nothing role?

Paul Giamatti is fine as Stacee Jaxx’s slimy manager, Paul Gill, but come on, this is such a typecast role for Giamatti.  He just did the same shtick but with more conservative clothing in THE IDES OF MARCH (2011) where he played the slimy campaign manager who messed up Ryan Gosling’s character’s career.  Giamatti is a better actor than this and hopefully will have some meatier roles soon. 

Alec Baldwin fares better as Dennis Dupree, the manager of the Bourbon club, even though he looks like a lost hippie belonging in the 1970s rather than the 1980s.  Still, Baldwin gets some of the better lines in the movie, and for those fans who have enjoyed his performance over the years as Jack Donaghy on TV’s 30 ROCK, the film provides one more venue to see Baldwin strut his stuff.

I also enjoyed Russell Brand as Dupree’s partner Lonny.  Brand’s close to hilarious in his brief screen time here, and he definitely livens up the film when he’s on screen.

The two leads though, Julianne Hough as Sherrie Christian, and Diego Bonata as Drew Boley both fall flat and fail to impress. 

Hands down, the best performance in the movie belongs to Tom Cruise as rocker Stacee Jaxx.

There are two reasons to see ROCK OF AGES:  the rock music soundtrack, and Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx.  Not being a Tom Cruise fan, I was surprised at how amazing his performance really is in this movie.  In terms of making an impact, I’d say it’s an even better performance than his fine work in JACK REACHER (2012), a film I really liked.  While Cruise’s Jack Reacher is a grittier and more realistic character than Stacee Jaxx, and perhaps ultimately a more satisfying role, there is something in Cruise’s Jaxx that is truly mesmerizing.

Cruise transcends his traditional persona, steps out of his comfort zone, and creates in Jaxx a haunted wounded rocker who has no business being in this lightweight movie.  It’s really an excellent performance.  He’s better than anyone else in this film.  I was impressed.

The soundtrack includes songs from such 80s artists as Journey, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Quarterflash, and Jon Bon Jovi.  The music is a lot of fun, especially if you lived through the 80s, as it brings back lots of memories.

The musical dance numbers are OK and for the most part didn’t really impress me all that much.  The two best numbers both feature Tom Cruise, “Wanted Dead or Alive” which he performs with Julianne Hough, and “I Want to Know What Love Is,” clearly the hottest number in the movie, in which Stacee Jaxx and Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Malin Akerman) engage in hot sex on a pool table— at least as hot as a PG-13 rating allows.

With ROCK OF AGES, director Adam Shankman has made a colorful musical filled with nostalgia for the 1980s, but on the other hand he skimps on the characterizations, the dance numbers, and any sort of edge that may have lifted this one above the fray.

As a result, ROCK OF AGES is a mixed bag.  It features a knockout performance by Tom Cruise that in all seriousness shouldn’t be missed, and a lot of fun 80s tunes, but dragging the whole thing down is a dull plot that is difficult to sit through, along with  characters that are about as deep and rich as a Phil Collins song.

You might be better served to listen to an old vinyl album instead.

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