It’s not hard to get nostalgic about the 80s. Everyone who lived through it, particularly during their teenage years, has a Trapper Keeper’s worth of memories– of big hair, neon, Spandex, and music of every genre. Hair metal, rap, bubblegum pop, and alternative music all came of age during the 80s.
And just like your radio dial back then, Rock of Ages, the film based on the hit 2006 Broadway musical, has just as many hits as misses; for every Life’s Rich Pageant moment there’s a cringe-worthy Rick Astley ditty.
Rock of Ages tells the story of sweet little farm girl Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough), who arrives in L.A. from Oklahoma in 1987 with dreams of making it big. After she’s robbed of her killer record collection outside The Bourbon club on Sunset, busboy Drew (Diego Boneta) gets her a job as a waitress. And their romance blossoms.
Meanwhile, the heavy metal band Arsenal, headed by could-be-Axl-Rose’s-twin-brother Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), is slated to play The Bourbon one last time before Jaxx goes solo. That’s, of course, welcome news to the club’s owner Dennis Dupree (a grungy/hippified Alec Baldwin), who’s trying to save his money-strapped venue. And, oh yes, Russell Brand is here, too, as Dupree’s lieutenant Lonny.
Still more meanwhile, there’s the Mayor’s wife Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who’s heading up a perfectly acronym-ed (I won’t spoil it) posse of conservative women who want to shut The Bourbon down and stop the spread of filth like Jaxx.
Unfortunately, the Rock of Ages story line is about as disjointed and meandering as it sounds, and its effectiveness is jettisoned almost immediately by the terribly un-charismatic Hough and Boneta. Didn’t director Adam Shankman ever watch Hough on Dancing with the Stars or, even better, last year’s Footloose remake? The woman has mad hoofing skills, but here she’s relegated to teasing her bangs with copious amounts of Aqua Net and squeakily chirping song after song after song.
Fortunately Cruise and the rest of the supporting cast are able to salvage the goings-on somewhat. Despite the fact that barely three minutes ever go by without someone launching into a mediocre cover of some 80s tune, Cruise still find a way to shine as Jaxx– playing the rocker with a perfect mix of nonsensical, typical-celebrity behavior mixed with a commanding stage presence that might just have made the late Freddie Mercury sit up and take notice.
Zeta-Jones, likewise, throws herself into her part– her “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” battle cry is one of the early highlights and marks a welcome return from her five-year absence in big-time flicks.
Veteran choreographer Shankman (who last sat in the director’s chair for 2008’s Bedtime Stories) does have all the flair required to turn Rock of Ages into a spectacle, but in the end, that’s all that it is. The love story fizzles, and all were basically left with is a silly mash-up of 80s songs with no plot to speak of. (At least not a coherent one.)
It’s a Broadway musical revue thrown through a blender– with costumes by Frederick’s of Hollywood and hair metal music by way of Glee.
It’s not quite the “I Wanna Rock” movie that it wants to be, but it won’t have you screaming “We’re Not Gonna Take It” either.