- Character Development
With a somewhat pathetic effort to bring the hit Broadway show Rock of Ages to the big screen, longtime director/choreographer Adam Shankman and writers Justin Theroux and Allen Loeb try desperately to breathe life into a film that comes off more like a cabaret hanging on to whatever plot substance available. Like a clothesline dangling in the wind, the story never picks up and instead relies heavily on the songs to carry the audience through. Even with an amazing cast the film has trouble, but maybe that should’ve been our first warning. Buckle up, because you’re in for one wild and headache inducing ride.
As a student of both film and musicals the anticipation for Rock of Ages was certainly present. Friends far and wide enjoyed Rock of Ages on Broadway, as the musical lends itself to the high energy and bass thumping anthem songs of the ’80s. One can see Shankman’s attraction to adapting the show into a big budgeted film with a powerhouse cast. Unfortunately, not every musical should be turned into a film and vice versa.
The story involves the return of rock legend Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) as he plays his last show at The Bourbon Room with his band, Arsenal, before starting his solo career. The film opens with a rowdy crowd, high on life and drugs, chanting “Stacee Jaxx, Stacee Jaxx, Stacee Jaxx”… but low and behold, it’s only a recording which our main character Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) listens to on her way to Hollywood, California — the mecca of Rock ‘n’ Roll!
Shortly after getting off the bus, the ambitious Sherrie meets diehard Stacee Jaxx fan and wanna be rockstar Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) who gets her a job at The Bourbon Room, home to the film’s comedic relief Lonny Barnett (Russell Brand) & Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin). The story takes off as Drew and Sherrie fall madly in love; however, it’s only a matter of time before their journey for fame and riches get in the way of their once flowering relationship. The two lovers must learn to find their way and most importantly discover their life’s passions.
The Music Steals the Show
The music is the film’s backbone and without it the whole thing would fall apart and shatter into a million flailing pieces. Sadly enough it’s the only thing that holds the audiences attention… well about the only thing. We receive the ’80s best from Arrow’s ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll and Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’ to Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ and the Twisted Sister’s ‘I Wanna Rock’. The actors give several stellar performances as well that will have you glued to the screen.
For those of you wondering how many of the songs from the Broadway show made it into the film… well let’s just say that nine songs didn’t make the cut and several were shortened and/or mashed together tastefully. In fact, the mashups proved the most impressive songs of the bunch. ‘Jukebox Hero’ & ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ were mashed together for a fresh new take. In the same boat, the film’s antagonist Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and her posse of religious followers sang ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ while Lonny and the rockers answered back with ‘We Built This City’. One can’t help but smile as the two songs go head-to-head.
List of the standout performances:
- ‘Jukebox Hero’/ ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ – Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin
- ‘Hit Me with Your Best Shot’ – Catherine Zeta Jones
- ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ – Tom Cruise & Malin Akerman
- ‘I Wanna Rock’ – Diego Boneta
- ‘Shadows of the Night’/'Harden My Heart’ – Mary J. Blige & Julianne Hough
- ‘Any Way You Want It’ – Mary J. Blige, Julianne Hough & Paul Giamatti
- ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ – Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise is the only other reason besides the music to pay matinee price to see this film. Don’t pay anything other than matinee because it’s not worth it. Cruise is electrifying as Stacee Jaxx. The 49 year-old actor moves and performs like a sex icon. The man knows how to take on characterization like no other. Not only does he step into the role of Stacee Jaxx with ease, but he also has a natural sex appeal that somehow makes you forget the day he jumped on Oprah’s couch confessing his love for Katie Holmes. With that being said, Cruise’s star power won’t be enough to bring this film anywhere close to his previous box office records. Rock of Ages may be Cruise’s first film in 10 years not to reach $200 million. By the way there’s this Baboon and he goes by the name of ‘Hey, Dude’, the furry primate gets more attention than several characters put together.
Lights, Choreography & Mary J. Blige
Shankman can choreograph the hell out of a song. Providing just the right moves, attention and detail, he understands how to capture our attention. The dance numbers provided much needed life and energy to the dull script and cliche storyline. In particular, the dance numbers in the strip club Venus where Mary J. Blige’s character Justice is owner. Justice finds Sherrie on the streets and offers her a job as at first a waitress, and as her confidence builds, Sherrie takes the stage as a stripper. Shankman’s choreography for ’Shadows of the Night’/'Harden My Heart’ and ’Any Way You Want It’ — both songs are performed in the strip club — is extraordinarily classy, showing these ladies off as true dancers rather than strippers. Mary J. Blige’s soulful voice adds depth to the song’s heavy lyrics.
What Happened to the Story?
Out of all the musicals to bring to the big screen Rock of Ages would’ve been my last choice. There are far way too many characters and the songs are meant for great a time. It works on a live stage where you can actually see the performers in front of you and feel their energy and presence. The writers didn’t offer the film any type of meat at all. In a musical the songs work because they’re supposed to comment on the characters’ actual emotional state. This story works itself into a corner because instead of working with original songs, the characters circumstances must fit into the songs lyrics which were written 30 years ago.
The Post Glee Syndrome
Glee may have ruined this film for me in all honesty. I appreciate what Glee did for musical theatre; the show brought the world theatrical performances and hit broadway songs to millions who would’ve otherwise never been introduced. However, Glee also completely ruined the form by which musicals are told. We now have characters bursting into song and dance for no good reason at all. And unfortunately, Rock of Ages suffers from this right in the beginning. Our main character Sherrie is on a bus full of people and she starts singing. The stranger to the right joins in, the bus driver’s singing a verse and a little girl in front of her even takes a stab at the song. Before you know it the whole bus is a factory of show choir hands and over exaggerated facial expressions.
To make matters worse Drew has terrible stage fright, which I don’t think shows up once in the film, and can’t perform an ‘original’ song he’s been working on for Sherrie. This song just so happens to be Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’… you know the song anyone born after 1997 credits Glee for its existence. And that’s the song the whole film ends on. This story should’ve stayed on the stage. If the film had been made before Glee I believe movie goers would’ve had a different opinion.
With a film that’s supposed to include song, dance and the whole shebang there are just way too many characters involved. We never really delve deep enough into any of the character’s circumstance to care about any of them or what happens to them. Drew and Sherrie’s romance is as cliche as they come. And unfortunately, Mary J. Blige, Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin’s characters are basically just cardboard cutouts placed here and there for the story’s development.
Over All Score: 2 Stars out of 5
May the theatre gods help us if this is where the musical film genre is headed. The last two musicals turned films (Nine & Footloose) flopped hard. Luckily, Les Miserables is on the horizon to return this lifeless genre back to the days of Rob Marshall’s Chicago. Rock of Ages is nothing more than a bunch of music videos strung together. Let’s hope Shankman makes better judgement in choosing his next project.
‘Rock of Ages’ Movie Trailer