Rock of Ages (PG-13)
June 22nd 2012 · 0 Comments
Anyone who was alive (and conscious) during the 1980s can tell you that it was a decade utterly devoid of shame or self-awareness. Virtually every facet of American pop culture during that span – from the hairstyles and fashion, to popular music, and even toys and television programming – is eminently embarrassing in retrospect. Of course, the same can be said about any bygone decade. Still, the 80s have a sleazy cachet all their own. Even the few relics that might persist on their own artistic merits have been retroactively ruined by subsequent transgressions (cf. Jackson, Michael).
Among all of the cringeworthy elements of 80s culture, its musical acts are probably the most shamelessly gauche. There isn’t nearly enough space here for a catalogue of even just the most embarrassing “Hair Metal” bands, but suffice to say they are among the worst offenders. It’s curious, then, that selective memory, rose-tinted classes, and a burgeoning trend toward gross cultural irony has allowed some of these criminal acts against good taste to retain a sense of faux-popularity.
Additionally, we have shows like Glee and films like the “High School Musical” series to thank for a resurgence of such brazen musical atrocities. In this environment, along comes “Rock of Ages,” a film adaptation of the Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical, and a paean to an era of music best left to rot.
The narrative combines a handful of your typical stock plots. First, we have Sherrie (Julianne Hough), the naïve girl from the sticks who comes to L.A. with dreams of becoming a famous singer. Her love interest is Drew (Mexican soap opera star Diego Boneta), who works at struggling nightclub the Bourbon Room, while also harboring his own dreams of stardom.
The club’s owners, Dennis and Lonny (Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, respectively), try to solve their financial woes by luring superstar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) for a farewell performance with his band, Arsenal, with whom he is parting ways. In response, archconservative Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) organizes protests against the club’s immoral excesses.
Of course, in a musical, the plot takes a necessary backseat to the songs. Here, your enjoyment of the biggest numbers is entirely dependent on your tolerance for the likes of Journey, Foreigner, Def Leppard, et al. If the film’s only intention was to capture a hollow, sleazy, booze-fueled party atmosphere, then it at least accomplished that much.
The performances themselves, however, are largely a letdown. They range from the passable (Cruise, surprisingly) to the anemic (Boneta). Although using recognizable hits from the 80s instead of attempting to write new songs aping the same style seemed to be a good idea, the song selection isn’t especially strong (apart from a few changes between the stage and screen versions, this is partly attributable to original creator Chris D’Arienzo, and the labyrinthine complexity of navigating musical rights).
Further, the big, blowout mashups fail to inspire (with the lone exception being an adversarial rendition of Starship’s “We Built This City” and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” between Lonny and the club’s supporters on one side and Patricia Whitmore and the protesters on the other).
The cast seems to be enjoying themselves for the most part, but it’s hard to realistically evaluate them amid the lurid cheesiness of a musical. Tom Cruise really embraced the role of the strutting, arrogant star, though it doesn’t seem like much of creative leap for him to make. Watching him mince about, shirtless and in tight leather pants, shamelessly parading his old-man physique (believe it or not, Cruise will turn 50 on July 3rd), one can’t help but find the whole spectacle to be laughable (of the “at-them, not with-them” variety).
Ultimately, you’ll only get as much mileage out of “Rock of Ages” as your ironic affection for 80s cheese will lend you. If you love musicals, and aren’t particularly choosy about whether they’re actually any good or not, you’ll probably be entertained.
Aiming to be nothing more than two hours of forgettable spectacle isn’t worthy of condemnation alone, but “Rock of Ages” is lacking the verve that might make it the classic that it so desperately wants to be. The discerning viewer would be better served skipping this film and going to see a live performance of virtually any other musical instead.
By Mark Ziobro