Rock of Ages Review (Cruise-a-thon #2)
For the second installment of my Cruise-a-thon, I decided to go with a left-field choice, a film almost always left out of Tom Cruise’s best of lists. Maybe this is for good reason, but I’m a sucker for 80s nostalgia and glam rock, so here goes: I re-watched the 2012 musical film Rock of Ages. (I know, I know. We’ll get to Top Gun).
Rock of Ages is based on the stage musical of the same name, directed by Adam Shankman, and featuring an ensemble cast featuring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mary J. Blige, Alec Baldwin, Malin Ackerman, and of course, Tom Cruise as legendary rocker Stacee Jaxx. It also features a long list of songs from well-known 80’s rockers. Yet, even with it’s infectious soundtrack and talented cast, the film never seems to reach the delirious heights it’s aiming for.
There are a lot of plot threads in Rock of Ages, so I’ll break it down into three main ones. The first and primary plot is about two young, beautiful people who have both gone out to Hollywood to find rock and roll stardom. Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta play the roles of Sherrie and Drew respectively, and right from the start they fall head over heels in love. This is a musical, after all. Out of all the storylines in this film, this one is the weakest. It takes a while for Hough and Boneta to relax into their roles, and they don’t have much in the way of chemistry. They are just two young, good-looking people who can sing arguably well.
The second plot involves The Bourbon, a club owned by Alec Baldwin’s Dennis and his second-in-command (and later romantic partner), Lonny (Brand). The Bourbon has not been profitable for a year, it seems, and they are in danger of going out of business. “Taxes…they’re so un-rock-and-roll,” Dennis laments. To get the money to pay their taxes and save the club, they set up a show with Stacee Jaxx. Meanwhile, a rock-n-roll-hating woman named Patricia (Zeta-Jones) has plans to expose the club for not paying its taxes, closing it down and “cleaning up the strip.” The stakes of this film revolve entirely around these events. Zeta-Jones delightfully chews scenery as a Puritan woman on a mission against Satanic music. An early performance of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” led by Patricia is one of the few musical numbers that truly pops. Later, when Patricia’s real motivations for her actions come forth, it’s rather amusing.
The third plot revolves around Tom Cruise’s Stacee Jaxx, a role that stands out in his career, even if the film itself doesn’t. Cruise channels the shallow and floundering Jaxx so well that it makes one wonder why he hasn’t had a role like this before. Alone and drowning in booze, drugs, and money, Jaxx yearns for something more. When a Rolling Stone journalist (Ackerman) breaks down his walls, they fall in love over the course of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.” The sexual tension in this scene was so unbearable (and humorous) that I wanted to reach through the screen and kiss Stacee Jaxx myself. I say that with no irony.
After a PG-13 romp through pleasure town, Jaxx takes the stage for a rousing, show stopping performance of Def Leopard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” This musical number is the best in the film, stealing the show. Cruise puts his all into this performance, channeling rock legends such as Jim Morrison and Axl Rose. It is unfortunate that the film peaks here, but what a peak it is!
After the show at The Bourbon, Paul Gill (Giamatti, playing the same sleeze he always seems to), Jaxx’s manager, takes the money from the show, leaving Dennis and Lonny no better off than they were before. Sherrie and Drew break up and both have some downer experiences, and the whole film loses steam. The best part of the third act is a scene in which Stacee Jaxx fires Paul while pissing on his shoes. He gives the money Paul stole back to The Bourbon, and there’s a big, emotionally cathartic concert at the end where the cast sings Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”. It can’t quite lift the audience’s spirits after watching our lead turn to stripping to make ends meet, especially when she gets no real victory in the end besides getting her boyfriend back *gag*.
Adam Shankman, the man behind the camera, also directed 2007’s Hairspray, which had much more energy and fun than this film does. The miscasting of the two leads is where the film’s biggest problem lies. There are some great performances and a smattering of exciting musical numbers, but it never really gets off the ground. It is less a rock-n-roll musical than it is Glee with Tom Cruise, but hey, Glee has its merits. Rock of Ages gets two and a half out of five Cruise liners.