Director: Adam Shankman
Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Ztea-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Malin Akerman.
Written by: Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo (also original musical book) and Allan Loeb
Running Time: 123 mins
Release date: 13th June 2012
I have a slight problem with musicals on film. For me, they never really capture that magic you feel when you are watching them on stage. Some do pretty well. Momma Mia!, for example, worked as a film, more for the feel-good factor than anything else (especially Pierce Brosnan’s singing). Hairspray also worked. Bright and breezy, plenty of colour and energy, although I did want to clap after every musical number. Rock of Ages, however, doesn’t work. The trouble is, in the theatre you get the atmosphere of the audience along with live music and Rock of Ages relies so heavily on loud music, something the cinema owners are never going to do is turn the volume up to 11.
Rock of Ages is the story of a girl who comes to Hollywood looking to find fame as a singer but ends up in a bar as a waitress, falling in love with a boy who works at the same bar with the same ambitions. Throw into the mix a newly elected Mayor whose wife wants the said bar closed down and a rock star with an ego problem and a passion for women and booze.
That pretty much covers the plot. The gaps are filled in with 80s soft rock classics like We Built This City on Rock N’ Roll, Wanted: Dead or Alive and I Wanna Know What Love Is, to name but a few.
The stage version is loud, with some funny moments and it’s a bit like going to an 80s party. If you can appreciate the music, then you will enjoy the show. The trouble with the film is that it’s a party yet you’re in the kitchen serving the drinks. You can hear it going on in the other room, yet you can’t leave your station.
It has more going wrong for it than going right. So let’s get the wrongs out of the way, starting with the leads. Julianne Hough, who fits the role of blonde, blue-eyed, innocent beauty well, just doesn’t have the vocal strength to carry off the rock ballad. Sounding more like another Disney channel upstart, her twee, over-produced voice becomes painfully annoying. Someone like Kelly Clarkson would have been perfect for this role. Then there’s Diego Boneta, making his movie debut as Drew. The problem I had with him is that he looks 5 years-old and didn’t once convince me he was a rocker. The only time it did work was when he was made to appear in a boy band. So the lead characters needed to be stronger and, definitely, different.
Then there’s Russell Brand. Brand is perfect casting for the slightly quirky, Lonny, who in the show is the narrator. Here, the narration part has been cut and Lonny is just a…well, it’s never really explained what he is. What is also unexplained is why Brand has adopted an awful accent. Is it Brummie? Is it Liverpudlian? No one seems to know. It just interferes with any humour that Brand is expected to deliver. Alec Baldwin, as the bar owner, Dennis, is fine but looks slightly bored throughout, with only his and Brand’s duet for REO Speedwagon’s I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore saving their roles.
Mary J. Blige pops up half way through the film as a pole dancing club owner, gets to let her powerful lungs a good workout and then keeps popping up without any real reason apart from needing some depth in the vocals, to sing along to songs she clearly has nothing to so with.
So the more positive side. Paul Giamatti, as a sleazy manager to Tom Cruise’s rock star, steals the film. He effortlessly walks in, delivers his lines with an edginess that they deserves, has some nice throw-away lines and even gets to show he’s not bad at carrying a tune either. Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the overly zealous Mayor’s wife, throws herself around for one big musical number (marred by unnecessary cutaways to other things) and gives it all the engery she can muster, while Bryan Cranston as her husband has some nice moments but not enough.
Malin Akerman, as a Rolling Stone’s reporter, nearly walks off with the film (if it wasn’t for Giamatti’s performance) but still gets the best number and an incredible use of tongue work. So it’s left to Tom Cruise, showing us another side, this time as rock god Stacee Jaxx, lead singer of Arsenal (no, they haven’t moved into music!). He is very funny, going all quiet and mysterious as the man who oozes sex appeal and can make women faint at the near mention of his name. He swans around half naked, tattooed up and plays the egomaniac with such style, you warm to him. The real surprise is his singing. Yes, he can (whether he has had helped is another thing) but he gets quite a few songs and I’d be interested to know if he actually played guitar too.
The other thing to mention is Adam Shankman’s direction. He was the man who bought the musical Hairspray to the screen, and what a joy that turned out to be. Here, he has got an energetic cast doing everything they can to entertain but he has no idea on editing. The big numbers have some very impressive choreography (you won’t believe what some women can do on a pole!) and yet we are not given enough time to really enjoy it. Another cut comes along, then another, then another…and so it goes.
And as for the finale! When I first saw the show, I said that they had brought faith back to the song Don’t Stop Believing, after Glee had willfully murdered it. Here, it’s slowly crawling back to the grave it once laid. Cheese doesn’t even come close!
If you like 80s soft rock then you might enjoy this. If you hate 80s soft rock then avoid at all cost. If you are fan of the show already, then you will be massively disappointed. If you have never seen the show, maybe you should go and see it, because it does deliver more than the film.