Brought from Broadway to the silver screen by director Adam Shankman and screenwriters Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, and Allan Loeb, Rock of Ages is a celebration of classic 1980’s rock that gives us the story of a small town girl (Julianne Hough) and a city boy raised in south Detroit (Diego Boneta) whose paths cross in a famous Hollywood bar on the Sunset Strip known as The Bourbon Room.
Adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name, the film makes both big and small changes in regards to both characters and music. For two-hours the script weaves Drew (Boneta) and Sherrie (Hough), and countless supporting characters, through a story built on the back of several 80’s hits from the likes of Journey, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Night Ranger, Warrant, Poison, Guns N’ Roses, Twisted Sister, and REO Speedwagon which the characters not only perform, but live.
Although the main love story is hardly anything new (and certainly isn’t helped by the film’s bland leads or the reliance on one of the most overused romantic comedy tropes), the film manages to succeed by embracing 80’s rock and roll and providing some tremendously enjoyable supporting performances from the likes of Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as The Bourbon’s owners, Paul Giamatti as a sleazy music producer, and Tom Cruise as aging rock god Stacee Jaxx.
Subplots to the troubled love story between Drew and Sherrie (who also each get their own subplots), include the effects of Stacee Jaxx’s interview with an insightful Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman) on the eve of launching his solo career, the efforts of the Mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to shut down evil rock and roll clubs such as The Bourbon, and the club’s owners dealing with money troubles and their unwillingness to admit their obvious attraction for each other.
The choice of Hough and Boneta as the film’s leads is puzzling. Boneta is mostly forgettable as the moody wannabe rock star turned boy band member. Hough, known primarily for dancing (in Dancing with the Stars and her role in the recent Footloose remake), is cast in a role that requires a heavy amount of acting and singing, but very little dancing. Neither is awful, but Hough certainly seems overwhelmed at times by what’s required of the role. When Mary J. Blige shows up to perform “Shadows of the Night” we’re shown for a moment how much better this film might have been had it cast real singers in the lead roles.
In terms of both acting and singing Cruise is the real stand-out, who’s obviously having a blast playing a character who is an amalgam of Axl Rose, Bret Michaels, and countless other 80’s rockers. Together with his posse, monkey, outrageous tattoos, and sleazy manager (Giamatti in another terrific supporting performance likely to go unnoticed), Jaxx is the epitome of rock star cliche, and yet Cruise is able to instill in the mostly drunk, often drugged, womanizing performer something more going on behind the bandanna and Ray-Bans.
Speaking of great supporting performances, Baldwin (who I always love) and Brand (who I often don’t) steal the entire film with a hilarious duet that I’m not about to give away here. In a film with several really fun moments and energetic musical numbers they provide the funniest, and most memorable, moment of them all.
And Rock of Ages is surprisingly funny as it gives us a nostalgic look back at the era while still have a few laughs at its expense. The script also embraces the inherent silliness of characters breaking into song in the middle of a conversation. Here the songs not only help tell the story, but they are the story.
However, when we get too long of a gap between music numbers the film stalls, nearly grinding to a halt on more than one occasion. It’s during such lulls the film’s blemishes become all too transparent. I would definitely recommend the film, and although I don’t think you need to see it in a theater I do believe the setting works well for this story. Rock of Ages isn’t a movie I’d return to very often, possibly viewing it on cable once every few years, but for one night it puts on a pretty good show.