It is not a good idea to make a “Rock of Ages” movie in 2012. The film is based on a Broadway show that premiered in 2006. I’m sure that back then it seemed like a good idea to stage a musical about performers who sing recognizable 1980s hits. But we’ve seen the rise and fall of the very similar “Glee” in the meantime and now the formula seems played out.
The problems begin with the overall look of the movie. Nothing seems to be lighted quite right. Granted, some of this might be due to the dirty, dingy club scenery, but overall the movie just looks drab and uninspiring.
The costumes worn in the film suffer from the opposite problem: they’re too flashy. Garish 80s costumes sound fun until you realize that an overachieving wardrobe department has spent thousands of dollars and who knows how much effort on these silly looks. The result is that the characters don’t look natural, like they’re at a present-day costume party and the theme is the '80s. Even Russell Brand looks uncomfortable and he always looks like he’s going to an '80s Bad Fashion party.
The film stars Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta as Sherrie and Drew, a couple of crazy kids trying to make it in the L.A. music scene. They work at a struggling club owned by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin in a goofy wig), who runs the place with his partner Lonny (Brand).
The future of the business hinges on a big performance by rock legend Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise, in another wig). Standing in the way of everyone’s fun is a group of outraged citizens led by comically uptight mayor’s wife Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), as well as Jaxx’s slimy manager (Paul Giamatti) who wants to take all the money from the performance.
Other characters include Malin Akerman as a reporter who gets an in-depth interview with Jaxx and Mary J. Blige as an exotic dancer who gets Sherrie a job in hard times.
There are some good singers in the cast, but they don’t stand a chance with this material. The songs are hardly favorites of mine, and even if I was crazy about them I still wouldn’t be happy with the way they’re edited and arranged. The film features covers of Def Leppard, Journey, Bon Jovi and Twisted Sister, among others.
Again, it’s very obvious that these are musical numbers performed by actors and dancers who have gone through a lot of training. The performances lack spontaneity and passion, though I do like Zeta-Jones’s version of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
Much has been made of Cruise’s performance in the film, but I didn’t find him charismatic at all. Stacee Jaxx acts spoiled and weird and doesn’t have the talent to back it up.
There’s a running gag about how easily he can seduce women. Cruise’s performance is so off-putting that while I can picture women flocking to Tom Cruise and I can picture women flocking to aging rockers of dubious attractiveness, I cannot imagine women finding Stacee Jaxx irresistible. How can Cruise fail so badly at being charming when he can be charming without even trying?
“Rock of Ages” is an ugly mess of a movie, but I invite you to see it anyway and form your own opinion. See it with a group of friends and play a game to liven things up. When the characters start a song, see who can be first to call out the name of the original singer or group. Then see if anyone in your group actually likes that song. Then see if anyone in your group likes the movie’s version of that song.
If you’re like me and you don’t enjoy most of the songs, at least you and your friends can have fun by commiserating over them.
One and a half stars out of five.
“Rock of Ages” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking and language. Its running time is 123 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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