Review: Rock of Ages

Pull on your leather trousers, backcomb your mullet and get out the eyeliner, because it’s 1987 and Stadium Rock is about to sex you up and then leave you in a bloated drug addled mess.

Rock of Ages is based on the hit musical of the same name. When Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) leaves Middle America for the big dreams and bright lights of L.A, she soon finds herself working at the notorious Bourbon Room – a proverbial Mecca for Glam Rockers and wannabe musicians. After a chance encounter with fellow hopeful Drew (Diego Boneta), the two soon embark on a romance amongst the turmoil and heartache of struggling club owners (Alec Baldwin), goody goody women’s groups (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and megawatt Rock gods (Tom Cruise).

Musicals have a tradition of being vapid and shameless versions of storytelling. All big show tunes and flashy dance numbers with hammy acting and paper thin plots, they are often pure escapism; Rock of Ages is no different. Like the cooler cousin to Mumma Mia, but covered in filth and oozing sex, Rock of Ages puts a big emphasis on being fun rather than being rewarding. As with any film in this genre, the accent is on the soundtrack, and Rock of Ages definitely has a fantastic jukebox index. Imagine, if you will, a mash up between the Time Life Classics Collections, a wedding after party and 80’s night at the local nightclub; there is a generous lump of cheese with the air pounding sound.

Shockingly though, instead of just pillaging the rock back catalogue, the filmmakers also try to really ‘honour’ the sexually charged lifestyles of bands such as Guns n’ Roses, Bon Jovi and Poison. Stirred in amongst the shaky lipped warbling and OTT head banging are moments of Rosary bead S&M, simulated onstage ejaculations and Tom Cruise singing into someone’s bum…I will wait a minute while you process that last one…

Speaking of Tom Cruise, let us not forget that this is a film which is seeking more credit than is due for its standout cast. The likes of Paul Giamatti and Alec Baldwin pull their weight. Russell Brand does his best, and is reasonably enjoyable to watch. Catherine Zeta-Jones is surprisingly funny and relative newcomers Hough and Boneta do decent jobs at headlining. Bryan Cranston, however, is wasted. Then there is Cruise, the big name on the backend of this film. Cruise sounds great, and can really scream with the best of them. His physique and look are the perfect embodiment of those he is channelling. However, as talented as Cruise is, he just doesn’t feel like a Rock Legend. Airs of Jim Morrison and Axel Rose float around the Mission: Impossible star, but at no point do they enter and exit his performance. The final product feels like a very gifted actor trying hard play one role which might be best suited for someone else (see Val Kilmer in The Doors).

For a film that carries a 12A rating (PG-13 in U.S) and a chirpy demeanour, there is a real grotty undercurrent that runs throughout Rock of Ages. Those like me who haven’t seen the stage show, may find the frankly unexpected strong sexual suggestions to be somewhat jarring for a ‘family’ film. But it doesn’t stop the music from bursting into your eardrums and stumbling its way through your mind for the days that follow. Its rock and roll baby and we love it!

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9 thoughts on “Review: Rock of Ages

  1. dude, my wife and I saw the musical on stage here on Broadway. FANTASTIC! it was electric, and the crowd rocked out. It was rated R, shall we say, but you get funny jokes like when the narrator says “and the band, they hate his guts”, the actual band playing in the back yell out “f*** you, a**hole!” and the crowd screams in laughter! In the musical, there is an actual band playing on stage. A guitarist, a bass player, and a drummer. And it is a fantastic concert. We saw it when Constantin Mauriolis was still playing Drew. I don’t know if he still is. But he was amazing.

    so yeah, my wife and i are looking forward to seeing it this weekend.

  2. I want to see it because it looks so awesome, but I’ll probably just buy the soundtrack and call it good. Maybe catch it on cable in a few years.

  3. A little disappointed that the main antagonists in the film are now religious types….in the stage version, they are unsympathetic city zoning officials. I guess religious women are easier to dislike than municipal bureaucrats in the view of Hollywood. An unnecessary slap.

  4. Eh, belay that last comment….antagonists in the stage version are commercial real estate developers or something like that. I was going on old memories, sorry. The point still stands though.

  5. My band played at The Whiskey once in the late 90s. Your review reminded me of that otherwise forgettable weeknight gig.

    Anyhow, I hated 80s hair music back then and it hasn’t grown on me any since then. I’m having trouble seeing the appeal of this flick (although the stage show sounds like something I would enjoy)

  6. I’m glad I’m not the only one to hate hair music. Although my guilty pleasure are some GnR songs and two or three Bon Jovi. But outside of that…

  7. I want to see this movie. I mostly think it will be a trainwreck, which is a quality I love in a movie.

    What’s weird is going to a show at the Troubadour in 2012 and seeing people who were into the glam 80s hair metal scene in LA back in the 80s…still dressed in spandex. Leopard skin spandex. With long hair on their balding heads. It really is strange.

  8. Saw this tonight, and thought it was surprisingly good, but I mostly agree with the review above. I let my kids choose the movie and between Rock of Ages, Snow White, and MiB3, they chose Rock of Ages. The above warning about sexual content shoyuld be in bold letters. My teenage daughter was scandalized and couldn’t watch the scene between Cruise and Malin Ackerman. It was over the top for PG-13.

    The fact that Cruise pulls this off is pretty amazing, but he’s a bit of a caricature, and in the end he’s a little disturbing in a role that should be more fun. TJ Miller almost walks off with the film playing just one scene where he has a late night conversation with Cruise. He brings much needed humor to the movie just when it’s in danger of getting really morose.

    For the most part, though, I liked it. It hit the right notes in the right places and, except for a couple mistaken mashups, the songs were well-chosen and well-performed.

    I may need to have my eyeballs scrubbed after watching the number between Baldwin and Brand. Some things you should be able to unsee.

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