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Review: Rock of Ages – Too much sugar poured on it

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Rock of Ages PosterRock of Ages is a film interpretation of the 2005 musical play of the same moniker. The play and the film are both fashioned from many of the “hair-metal” rock ballads of the 1980s; not necessarily the musical era that most would consider to be exceptionally inspirational. But while most of the music in this movie is decent, the creators of this film have poured way too much sugar on it to make it a believable rock & roll movie.

The story is set in 1987 Los Angeles on the Sunset Strip, where Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) arrives from Oklahoma to find fame & fortune in the big city. Her belongings, including her treasured record collection, are immediately stolen, but she soon meets Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) and he sets her up with a job waitressing at the ‘famous’ Bourbon Room (based on the real-world Whisky-a-Go-Go).

Drew & Sherrie fall in love while pursuing their singing careers, but things turn ugly when Drew sees rock star Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) pulling up his pants after a run-in with Sherrie – all this on the same night that Drew’s band has its big debut, opening for the Stacee Jaxx band, Arsenal, at the Bourbon Room.

The two lovebirds go their separate ways; Drew joins a hip-hop boy band and Sherrie starts dancing in a strip club, where there are plenty of strippers dancing, but no one actually stripping. Meanwhile, Stacee Jaxx starts a solo career; and his manager (Paul Giamatti) finds ways to fleece the Bourbon Room, which is ran by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his partner Lonny (Russell Brand).

Tower Records in Rock of AgesThere is also a side story about a ‘prudish’ politician’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who is trying to shut down the rockers and the music because of its demonic influence on society. I didn’t realize this was still a big concern in the late-eighties, especially in seedy downtown Los Angeles, but I guess someone has to be the bad guy/girl for the sake of this stereotypical story.

This movie was directed by Adam Shankman, who also did the screen adaptation of the musical Hairspray. Shankman’s new movie about rock & roll, Rock of Ages, doesn’t even chart in the top 100. It is an almost completely watered-down and sugared-up version of the genre. Now that’s fine if your target audience is 15 year-old girls, and maybe that’s the case with this film, but rock & roll isn’t PG-13 and this film shouldn’t have been either.

When Rock of Ages is at its raunchiest and closest reflection of the rock & roll life, this is also when it is at its most ridiculous. Sex scenes of Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) and Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Malin Akerman) are painfully awkward and cringe-inducing.  That being said, I do give Cruise props for his performance in this film. It took a lot of guts to sign-on to a role like this and his portrayal of Jaxx is one of the only highlights of this otherwise mundane movie. I liked his sidekick monkey, Hey Man, as well.

The title of this film leads one to believe that its music would be of an everlasting or eternal quality; and I’m sure that for someone, Journey’sAny Way You Want It” fits that category.  But for me, most of the music in this film is generic rock at best and certainly not anything I would consider timeless. Then again, the creators of this film were inspired by these tunes, so I may just be out of touch.

Tom Cruise in Rock of AgesThe film also plays fast and loose with its 1987 timeline, in particular there is an extended sequence inside the Sunset Strip’s famous Tower Records location where the entire store is lined with rows and rows of LP records, but conspicuously missing are Compact Discs. It was about 1987 that CDs overtook LPs in sales and it’s hard to believe that there was not even one CD in that store. I’m down with the filmmakers in that LP album art is easier to see than CDs, but if you are not going to realistically portray the era, then why make a period piece at all?

As I mentioned, most of the music in this movie is decent, but whether or not it is worthy of inspiring a decent movie is debatable. The band Foreigner, while likeable enough, has three songs featured in this film, none of which I feel has enough merit to make movie around. In fact, the best musical number in this film is “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” the 1984 classic by REO Speedwagon, as performed by Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin – as a joke.  That speaks volumes about the rest of this movie.

Elvis Presley once said, “I don’t know anything about music. In my line you don’t have to.” No truer statement about rock & roll has ever been spoken. Unfortunately, if you are going to make a rock & roll movie, I DO think you should know something about the music; and I don’t think the creators of this film have a clue.

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.