[Review] – Rock Of Ages

25 Jun

Title: Rock Of Ages
Year: 2012
Director: Adam Shankman
Writers: Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo and Allan Loeb, based on the musical book by Mr. D’Arienzo
Starring: Diego Boneta, Julianne Hough, Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mary J. Blige, Malin Akerman, Alec Baldwin, Bryan Cranston, Will Forte
MPAA Rating: PG-13, sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language
Runtime: 123 min
IMDb Rating: 6.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 41%
Metacritic: 47

I never really expected to like Rock of Ages because from every promotional stuff I had seen it just didn’t look like it would be any good. And yet by the time it was done, even if it wasn’t really a good movie, I realized that it had actually managed to win me over at a couple of points during its running time. There were a few instances in which it had me going because of how totally silly and over-the-top it all was, but then a few minutes passed and I realized how totally unnecessary and inconsequential this stage-to-screen adaptation was. Maybe if this film hadn’t been so long, clocking in at over two hours, I wouldn’t have noticed that as much and had a better time with all of these actors, some of them top notch, singing along to the cheesiest 80’s songbook around.

The fact remains, however, that this one actually managed to work for me, it provides much more fun than I initially thought. And that’s probably for the same damn reason that the bands this film takes its songs from, like Poison or Journey, were successful to begin with: they had damn catchy songs. That’s why “Don’t Stop Believin'” was the song that launched Glee to such massive success, that’s why people keep covering these ditties in singing competitions; people know these songs by heart now, whether they want to or not, and if you plague a film with all of them you’ll easily find yourself nodding your head to beat or, God forbid, actually singing along.

Rock of Ages, the musical, with a book by Chris D’Arienzo (who co-wrote the screenplay here), premiered in 2009 on Broadway and was the guiltiest pleasure you could possibly find in the Great White Way. And this film is a guilty pleasure too, and I’m giving it a (slightly) recommending grade because I do believe there’s a time to consume films like this. Sure, it’s absolutely shallow and corny to the bone and absolutely artificial and silly, but so are most of the big films you’re going to get in a summer movie season anyways, at least this one’s upfront about it. The tagline in the posters is “Nothin’ but a good time”, borrowing from Poison song that’s featured early in the movie, and that’s all this movie wants, no matter how shallow it may seem in the process, and, for a good part of its too-long running time, it succeeds at it.

The story this film uses to get from one song to the next is that of a small-town girl, Sherrie, played by Julianne Hough, who travels to California with dreams to become a star, and where she meets Drew, played by Diego Boneta, a bartender who works at The Bourbon Room, and who shares the same dream with Sherrie. They’ll obviously start falling for one another, and start having “deep” conversations, and then of course something will happen that will put an end to their romance, but of course by the end they’ll be reunited. This is Hollywood, after all. Not that this film ever lets you forget that fact for one second.

Anyways, even though Ms. Hough and Mr. Boneta are the leads, the supporting characters are the ones played by the big names, and they’re what makes this film worthwhile. Of course the star used most in the promotional material is Tom Cruise, who plays Stacee Jaxx, a famous rock star who’s booked to play at The Bourbon Room in hopes of raising enough money to get the bar out of its financial woes. You have Alec Baldwin as the bar’s owner, Russell Brand as his right-hand man, Paul Giamatti as Stacee’s manager, Bryan Cranston as the Mayor, Catherine Zeta-Jones as the Mayor’s wife who’s a religious conservative who tries to shut the bar down, Malin Akerman as a reporter for Rolling Stone and Mary J. Blige as the owner of a strip club. Like I said, big names singing cheesy songs, there’s something kind of fun about that.

What’s best is that having all these big-name stars playing these roles here isn’t just a gimmick, though it is partially that, but these people actually bring a lot of energy to their roles and make them super fun to watch, totally eclipsing whatever romantic storyline Ms. Hough and Mr. Boneta are portraying on-screen. It’s that intensity of these performers, that of course translates perfectly into their performances of 80’s classics, that makes this film fun. Yes, granted, whenever people stop singing and start talking you realize that the script is pretty much garbage, but at least the singing comes in often enough to save you from that realization.

I’ll go ahead and give Rock of Ages a recommending grade, I really do think it earned it. It really is a pity that the central romance we should be the most invested in is by far the weakest link in the film, and that whenever the focus is on that, and particularly when the kids aren’t singing, you’re only waiting for Tom Cruise or Alec Baldwin or some of the other stars to come on screen. Mr. Cruise definitely gets special props here, he’s just mocking himself in a way, throwing himself with total recklessness into a super silly role, and coming out squarely on top like those who have seen Tropic Thunder know he can when he does that; he steals this film from everyone else. It’s that sense of self-awareness that got this film to work for me.

Once you accept that Rock of Ages is indeed the most inconsequential spectacle of a karaoke playlist around in theaters right now, but that it can be quite fun, I really do think you’ll enjoy yourself. Ignore the pretty kids you’re supposed to be rooting for, and concentrate on the awesomeness of Bryan Cranston, think about how great Paul Giamatti is, how much fun Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand were obviously having playing off each other, how good Malin Akerman actually is here, and with how much abandon Tom Cruise delivered this very weird role. It’s too damn long for its own good, but for a good enough share of that two-hour-plus concert, I bought it.

Grade: B-


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