ROCK OF AGES

Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Adam Shankman
Stars: Julianne Hough, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tom Cruise, Bryan Cranston, Diego Boneta, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, Mary J Blige, Malin Ackerman, Russell Brand.

The popular Tony-nominated Broadway jukebox musical Rock Of Ages comes to the screen, and for fans of 80’s rock anthems and power ballads it will certainly provide a good time. The film is set in 1987, and most of the action takes place in the legendary Bourbon Room in Los Angeles, which is “a sea of sweat, ear-shattering music and puke.”
Drew (Diego Boneta, from the rebooted 90210, etc) works there as a bartender, but he is also an aspiring rock singer, if only he can conquer his stage fright. Sherrie (Julianne Hough, from the recent remake of Footloose, etc) is the new girl in town, who has arrived from a small town in the midwest hoping to find fame and fortune. She ends up as a waitress in the Bourbon Room. Romance develops between the pair as they keep believing in their dreams.
But the nightclub is under threat from two sources. Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the powerful and moralistic wife of the local mayor, heads a coalition of conservative women who want to close down that “monument to decadence.” Ironically, the group voices their disapproval of the satanic music through rock songs themselves.
The club is also rapidly going broke, and its rockdog manager Dennis Dupree (a perfectly grizzled Alec Baldwin) hopes that an appearance from legendary rock star Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) will change its fortunes. The Bourbon Room launched Jaxx’s career, but the aging rocker is now almost washed up. He has succumbed to too much sex, drugs and booze, and is now coasting along on his past glory, playing his old songs. He has become unreliable and something of a joke, although he still has loyal groupies eager to sleep with him.
The character is probably a composite of any number of legendary old school rockers, and part of the fun is in recognising the obvious influences. Cruise hasn’t been this switched on and immersed in a character for a long time. He revels in the role of the dissolute rocker, with his long flowing locks, tattoos and sinewy body. He has a cocky swagger and exudes a raw sexual magnetism; and he even does a good job of singing a couple of power ballads.
Like Mamma Mia, which created a narrative around a host of popular Abba songs, and We Will Rock You before it, Rock Of Ages uses a vibrant soundtrack of 80’s rock songs to propel the rather thin, cliched and formulaic narrative. Justin Theroux and Allan Loeb have adapted the play with the help of original writer Chris D’Arienzo, although they can’t always disguise the material’s theatrical origins. Former choreographer turned director Adam Shankman (Hairspray, etc) does his best to keep things moving along, and he injects a few camp touches into the material. But the film seems to lack the raw energy of the stage show, which had audiences punching the air and playing air guitar in the aisles.
The casting is wonderful, although there are a few surprising choices. All of the actors do passable cover versions of some classic songs from bands like Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Bon Jovi, etc. Newcomer Boneta certainly has charisma to spare as the starstruck Drew, but unfortunately there seems to be little real rapport between him and Hough.
Paul Giamatti is his usual sleazy self as Jaxx’s manager, who is so oily that Exxon should take out shares in him. Russell Brand is in his element as the wise-cracking Lonny, the Bourbon Room’s MC, who also develops a wonderful bromance with Dennis. And Mary J Blige plays Justice Charlier, who runs a strip club on the notorious Strip, although most of the scenes set here leave a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste. Malin Ackerman is funny as a sexually voracious and desperate journalist who gets a very intimate personal interview with Jaxx.
There is a hint of nostalgia to Rock Of Ages with its authentic 80s vibe, good times and familiar songs, which will be more than enough to appeal to many in the audience who may well find themselves singing along.
★★★

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