The theatre near you where “Rock of Ages” is playing isn’t simply a movie theatre showing a new musical, it’s actually the place where real rock and roll went to die. Despite the title, the popular Broadway karaoke musical doesn’t rock, although it does go on for ages.
The framework on which the Greatest Hits of Hair Metal hangs is a typical small town girl moves to Hollywood story. (Oh) Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) is a naïve dyed-in-the-wool rock fan who arrives in Los Angeles, circa 1987, with a suitcase full of LPs, a gallon of Aqua Net and a dream to become a singer. She lands a job at the coolest bar on the Sunset Strip, the Bourbon Room, run by Dennis Dupree (Alex Baldwin) and falls for Drew, a handsome rock star wannabe (Diego Boneta). On the night of the biggest show of the year—a showcase by Stace Jaxx (Tom Cruise)—dreams come true for some and shatter for others.
“Rock of Ages” contains a couple things I never thought I’d see—a rear view close-up of Tom Cruise’s bottomless chaps and Alec Baldwin diving into a mosh pit—and one thing I’ve dreamed of for years—a monkey butler who fetches bottles of scotch and looks good in a suit. It’s that kind of movie, and if you surrender yourself to the over-the-top feel of the movie you may have a good time.
Cruise, who plays superstar Jaxx, the “most unreliable man in the music business,” pours some sugar on it. He’s Robert Plant with Axl Rose’s attitude and Prince’s trademarked revealing chaps. On stage he moves like an alien Iggy Pop, off stage he staggers through life searching for “the perfect song, the perfect sound,” (which, apparently sounds a lot like Journey). It’s still not real rock and roll, but the movie does rock a little harder when he’s on screen.
Paul Giamatti, as a slimy music manager who says things like, “I wish the true part was falser,” and Baldwin supply some lighter moments while Catherine Zeta-Jones as the Tipper Goresque wife of the mayor who wants to end Stacee Jaxx’s “filthy little music sex ride” stops the show with We’re Not Gonna Take It.
The 1984 hit is given a full scale 80’s video treatment, complete with teased hair and syncopated choreography. It’s more musical theatre than Twister Sister but it has the energy that other parts of the movie lack.
No amount of frenetic editing can spice up some of the numbers and the two leads, Hough and Boneta, are as bland as the rock ballads they sing.
“Rock of Ages” has some of the most enthusiastic pole dancing ever seen on screen, an unexpectedly fun performance from Cruise, and songs you’ll recognize, but is essentially only exists as an excuse to string a bunch of familiar songs together. It feels like a new twist on the oldies station you listen to on the way to work.