ROCK OF AGES
By Gary “Metallica” Murray
Starring Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Diego Doneta, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Paul Giamatti
Written by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo and Allan Loeb
Based on the stage play book by Chris D’Arienzo
Directed by Adam Shankman
Running time 2 hr 3 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating—Matinee
I know a guy named Jeff who hates Nirvana (the band not the concept). He sees that rock group and the Seattle grunge for destroying his big hair heavy metal sound, the tunes he loved. He puts the blame of killing ‘his music’ of good time party rock and roll directly in the laps of Kurt Cobain and Company.
I see the entire exercise of rock music as a form of evolution. No kid wants to rock to the music his parents or older siblings like. Music always changes and the newer artists just add to the fabric set down by their forefathers. But for those who wax nostalgic for those days of guys in Spandex and eyeliner, we have the rock musical Rock of Ages.
Though set in 1987, the story of Rock of Ages is very old school. It is the oldest formula of guy meets girl, guy gets girl, guy loses girl due to misunderstanding and finally everything comes out perfect in the end. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is as small town Oklahoma girl who has a dream of making it in the big city of LA. She takes the bus to the Sunset Strip and the famous heavy metal club, the Bourbon Room. There she meets Drew (Diego Doneta) a struggling singer/songwriter and bar worker. Everybody who has seen a musical knows where this will lead.
The bar is run by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) a man-child who loves the hard rocking lifestyle. His assistant is Lonny (Russell Brand). They need a huge influx of cash to keep the doors open. Everybody who has seen a musical knows where this will lead.
The club books the last performance of the band Arsenal, led by soon to be solo artist Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). He is the pampered major star who has lost touch with his roots. He is managed by Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) who has his own ideas of success. Paul represents all that is bad about the industry. Everybody who has seen a musical knows where this will lead.
Dennis has problems with the local authorities, mainly candidate Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The conservatives want to shut down all the businesses on the Sunset Strip and turn the area into a shopping super destination. Everybody who has seen a musical knows where this will lead.
The basic conflicts in Rock of Ages are as old as cinema and everyone knows where all of them are going to end up. There are few surprises in the screenplay of Rock of Ages. Where the film could have focused on some of the darker elements of fame and the manipulation of youth by older people, the basic emphasis is more on party and not the more base instincts of mankind.
But, the film is not about the story but the songs. The reason to see this musical is the performances. Tom Cruise chews at every bit of scenery as Stacee Jaxx, the pampered overindulgent rock god. He (like a famous R&B/Pop Star) has a simian traveling companion who steals most of the best jokes. Eventually Jaxx is confronted by a Rolling Stone reporter who believes in the artist behind the sunglasses and persona.
The secondary characters are much more effective than the leads. Russell Brand as a wicked little part as Lonny, the assistant. With his shaggy haircut he looks like the mirror image of Freddy Mercury of Queen and would be a perfect fit for that part. He gets a moment here and there to command the stage. The biggest stand-out performance in the work is by Catherine Zeta-Jones. She has one big number and makes the most of it by singing and dancing with the best of
The weakness of the entire work is in the two leads. Julianne Hough and Diego Doneta seem out of their element in the story, neither one looking like rock stars but as kids playing dress-up. They have no chemistry working with each other and never seem to find the right beat for their characters. To put it simply, they don’t rock.
But, it is fun to go to a musical and know all of the tunes. Some of the mash-ups of different metal songs work in this idea. In a crowd scene, there are some very famous faces singing “We Built this City” mash-up. They are icons of rock left to delivering a chorus and one wants to see more of them.
Call the movie Heavy Metal Glee. This is not a great movie but it is a fun little cinema experience that glorifies a not to distant past. While not ‘cinema’ it is a fun little summertime diversion. Rock of Ages will not set the world on fire but it will make certain people pine for their youth.