Rock of Ages takes place in 1987 and follows Sherrie Christian (an opportunely-titled character that can have two different songs sung about her name) as she leaves her dusty Oklahoma and dusty Grandmother to chase down dreams in Los Angeles – to become a Rock superstar.
As this is a musical, Sherrie and her new California boyfriend Drew skip along their adventures via the song – specifically 80s hits like American Treasure ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’.
We also get the ‘Sister Christian’, a song that has no place in any movie that’s not Boogie Nights.
I’m not a man of discerning musical taste. I can tell you with complete honesty that my iPod shuffled onto songs by both Amon Amarth and the Backstreet Boys within the last twenty-four hours. So even though Hair “Metal” isn’t my favorite genre, I’ll admit to having some favorites from the era (Journey, also Journey).
But Rock of Ages makes the mistake of holding 80s pop Rock and Roll to a high standard that its songs rarely met. Sherrie and Drew, after briefly giving up their popstar dreams, return to the nightclub and scream righteously “I wanna rock!” before launching into a piano ballad about believing. Embracing that Grade-A cheese with so much ebullience and vigor is not only confusing, it feels like Little League.
The tone of the movie isn’t quite reverential, but moments like these puts a lot of pressure on the music to deliver big results – something every Musical should, theoretically, achieve.
But even as un-rock as so many of these songs are to begin with, they’re completely castrated by the time they’re filtered through Rock of Ages’ filter worthy of Kidz Bob to sound friendly and pitchy. They never get you excited, and they never make you want to start tapping along to the beat. They’re just loud.
The cast does little to help – Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta as star couple Sherrie and Drew are technically fine singers and dancers, but their acting itself feels more technical than emotional.
They’re rounded out by a large and noteworthy supporting cast that’s supposed to be able to sell the show on their own, but this is hardly the case. Star-players like Alec Baldwin, Bryan Cranston and Will Forte bop up and down for your amusement, but the film is too overstimulated for them to give any lasting effect.
But the real star of the film (or at least of its marketing campaign) is Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, the washed out megastar of the biggest and baddest of bands in this alternate History. Cruise wasn’t a poor choice to play this drug-washed idol – he has a strong track record of playing intense assholes. But Jaxx isn’t intense, he’s slow drunk mess; and though Cruise deserves points for dedication to a role as different as this, his performance itself is pretty indifferent.
The only two bight spots in the film are a reliably greasy Paul Giamatti, and a wound-too-tightly Catherine Zeta-Jones, on a mission in life is to destroy the decadent ways Jaxx and the scene he roosts over.
There’s nothing decadent about Rock of Ages, though. A tribute to the most self-indulgent era of recent pop culture, Rock of Ages is closer in line to High School Musical’s awkward rebellious phase than any moment that the film tries to emulate from the Sunset Strip.
It’s superficially superficial, and I don’t mean that as a double-negative.