Rock of Ages is basically an all 80's version of Glee. It, in fact, is everything I like and everything I dislike about Glee in movie form. It's a musical built around the songs and not the story. It's main catch isn't the fact that it's a musical, it's that it's a musical with a lot of songs you know and love. It's the kind of Hollywood film that you can see being stitched together as they check off a list of songs that need to be in an 80's rock and roll musical.
You don't want to tap your foot to it or get caught up in the songs, but then, about half-way through, you are. Then, by the end, you're practically throwing up a lighter in the movie theater as Journey (yeah, you know which song) blares through the speakers. And despite the fact that the film is so obviously not rock and roll, the rock and roll in it has caught you up in it. That's the power or rock and roll, and that's what Rock of Ages tries to be about.
Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages is a massive contradiction. A film about the swan song of rock and roll in the 80's that bemoans the loss of head-banging, badass rockers and that true rock and roll spirit, all while being the exact kind of thing that crushed it. With actors singing all the songs to various degrees of success and a soundtrack clearly designed by a focus group and dedicated PR team to be rock and roll, the film is pretty much the exact opposite of rock and roll whenever anything is going that doesn't involve singing or Tom Cruise acting like a crazy person.
But then a song hits, not all of them, mind you, but some of them. And it's sung well or the actors are at least putting some awesome effort into it (rock's never been about the ability to sing well), and despite being a movie made by the antithesis of rock and roll, rock and roll shines through. You find yourself having fun because music is fun, and music you know and love is even more fun. This movie is the physical manifestation of cognitive dissonance. Thankfully, the music wins out in the end.
Based in the 1980's, Rock of Ages tells the story of a rock club called Bourbon and the many lives that come through it. There's the star crossed, want-to-be rockers Drew (Diego Boneta) and Sherrie (Julianne Hough), who are looking for their big break. There's the club owner, Dennis (Alec Baldwin), and his cohort, Lonny (Russel Brand), who pull off the best duet of the film. There's the 80's politician's wife, Patricia (Cathrine Zeta-Jones), a clear mockery of Nancy Reagan's war on rock and roll, and a slew of other characters who get to bust out into 80's rock anthems all over the place.
Then there's Tom Cruise, who plays super rock star Stacee Jaxx. Cruise runs away with the part, playing it to the hilt of insanity without dumping over into all-out parody. He's so good, in fact, that he makes the rest of the cast look worse, which is even worse for poor Malin Ackerman, who has to play his love interest but can't keep up. In fact, most of the time, when anyone else is speaking or any plot is unfolding outside of Cruise's alcohol-swilling, drug-addled rocker, you basically want the film to either get to a song quick or cut back to Cruise doing something insane. The rest of the characters are just not that interesting, and it's pretty obvious the filmmakers know that, because despite Cruise getting cameo billing, the film clearly concentrates on him.
In fact, leading up to his entrance about a quarter of the way into the film, the movie feels like it's crawling. The music is okay, but two weak mash-ups in a row had me worrying that none of the rock was going to get my toe tapping at all. But, like a well constructed song (or a well-constructed musical, since this is based on the musical of the same name), it starts picking up as the film rolls along. The first part of the film falls into the trap of feeling like it's working its plot around songs, while the end of the film actually has a groove where both story and songs work together. It doesn't fully make up for the slow beginning, but it definitely saves the film.
Rock of Ages is pretty much exactly what it seems to be: a Broadway musical turned into a film that is obviously grasping for the Glee crowd. It's definitely not rock and roll, but at least it's trying. I mean, any movie that has both "Here I Go Again" and "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" in it can't be all bad.