June 14, 2012
It is 1987. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) rides a bus from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Los Angeles, California to fulfill her rock and roll dreams. On her first night in Hollywood, her idealism was shattered when her luggage with her precious rock music records were stolen. She meets struggling musician Drew (Diego Boneta), who helped her get a job in THE legendary rock club on the strip called The Bourbon Room, run by odd couple Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand). Sherrie could not have come at a better time because The Bourbon Room has booked her idol, rock superstar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), to play his final gig with his band Arsenal before going solo. Also on Stacee's case are the mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his rabidly anti-rock wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), his oily manager (Paul Giamatti) and Rolling Stones reporter (Malin Akerman).
The actors really give it their cheesy all in their singing and acting. Julianna Hough and Diego Boneta were charming and good singers as the central couple, but they were upstaged by the senior stars, particularly Tom Cruise. Cruise plays a character so far off from the type anyone thought he would or could do. I had my doubts when I heard he would be doing this role and doing his own singing to boot. This was a very physical role for Cruise as he hardly had wordy lines to say. He had the aging rock star look down pat, shirtless and drunk the whole time. I can imagine Steven Tyler like this when he is not on American Idol! However, if you watch and listen to Cruise's performance of "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me," you'll really believe that he is indeed a rock god! Not too successful though was Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose scheming Stepford-wife-type character was poorly written and executed, especially in the epilogue.
Some songs fit right in, some songs were pretty awkward. The musical mash-ups were very well done. The popular TV series "Glee" has robbed this movie of surprises since it obviously got its inspiration from this musical play, particularly the finale number "Don't Stop Believing," a song which remains to be "Glee"'s biggest hit. Many of the songs in "Rock of Ages" have also been sung on "Glee." (Was it coincidence too that Director Adam Shankman also directed a couple of "Glee" episodes"?) The song that got the most riotous audience reaction though was REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling," which I will never hear in the same way again after the hilarious scene where it was sung here.
OK, the story is not the main attraction here. The multiple intersecting story lines were all Hollywood cliches -- small town girl going to the big city to find her luck; boy meets, loses and gets back the girl; an old business institution on the brink of financial ruin; a jaded star gets a wake-up call; stripper madame with a heart of gold (Mary J. Blige), etc... -- you name it. Scenes of explicit sexual, alcoholic and drugged debauchery (which you cannot really separate from a movie about rock and roll), as well as sexy pole-dancing scenes in a strip club, may make some members of the audience uncomfortable. This movie is not for young kids at all. But the mixing in of very popular songs, most of them Number 1 hits, made this fun and entertaining for people who grew up in the 80s like me. As a kid of the 1980s where glam rock anthems and power ballads ruled the music scene, I really enjoyed and was singing along with practically all the songs in this movie. By sheer chance, we are set to watch the local musical play production of "Rock of Ages" tomorrow night, and let's see how these two versions compare.