Adam Shankman’s film version of “Rock of Ages,” a love-letter to the rock and roll scene of the 1980s, is less a film and more a sterilized, over-long episode of “Glee.” The target audience seems to be high schoolers and their nostalgic parents, who can go and see the film together and not be embarrassed by the sex and drugs that were such a large part of the actual music scene of the time. The main story centers around the proverbial small-town girl, Sherrie (played both by Julianne Hough and Julianne Hough’s big, feathered hair-do), and a wannabe “rock god” who falls for her, Drew (Diego Boneta, who looks more suited to modelling for Abercrombie than writhing around on the ground in eyeliner). The love story provides a lot of the film’s humorous moments, as the two squeaky-clean characters lack any semblance of chemistry, and their troubles seem to be pulled from a 14 year old’s diary, rather than any resemblance to life. The biggest problem with “Rock of Ages” is that the story focuses too heavily on this unbelieveable and, frankly, boring romance, and not enough on the strong supporting cast.
This supporting cast is made up of some of the biggest talents today: Tom Cruise as troubled and troublesome rock star Stacee Jaxx, Paul Giamatti as the definition of “slimy” playing Jaxx’s manager, Alec Baldwin as an aging club-owner and Russell Brand as his hyperactive club manager, Bryan Cranston as the mayor and Catherine Zeta-Jones as his zealously anti-rock wife, Mary J. Blige as Hough’s strip-club-owning fairy godmother, Malin Akerman as a reporter for “Rolling Stone,” and Will Forte in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role of a reporter. As you can imagine, the sheer amount of characters means several interesting characters get short shrift, and leave the viewer wishing there was less love story and more attention paid to Zeta-Jones and Cranston, who are introduced and then neglected for so long viewers might forget they are even in the film. Baldwin and Brand work particularly well together, performing a rendition of REO Speedwagon’s “I Just Can’t Fight This Feeling” that is the perfect combination of humorous and touching. Fans of Cruise and/or Akerman will enjoy their dynamic, but their dry-humping scenes will leave most viewers scratching their heads – because with a PG-13 rating the most gratuitous the film gets is women in their bras and lots and lots of Tom Cruise with his shirt off. Blige gives a predictable performance, and, in a extremely odd moment, her character seems to offer stripping as a way to empower women (even as the patrons grab the women by their assets).
The songs – essentially the heart of the film, and the main reason many will go to see it – are so clearly dubbed and over-worked that even the fans will be turned off. Hough and Boneta are so clean and virginal that the “sex” which threatens Zeta-Jones’s Los Angeles never really threatens anything, and their dynamic plays more like siblings than lovers. Even Cruise, who appears to be on drugs but is never seen with anything harder than an expensive bottle of Scotch, can’t achieve the magnetic sexual power of the rock stars he has based his performance on. He does well when he is brooding, and the film has a rare burst of energy when he performs “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” However, the audience may not have gotten over the first shot of Cruise’s crotch emerging from a pile of women – some may leave the theater permanently scarred by that unwanted close-up.
Overall, the film about the dirty, raw, sexually-charged rock and roll scene lacks dirt, emotion, and sex. It is a look back at the past, through the nostalgic lenses of the Glee-generation who were too young (or not even alive) to understand the appeal of the music. The comedic moments were many but most of them were unintentional, and were often caused by the film’s complete lack of emotional involvement with its characters. If you’re looking for a film to take your parents to that will be immediately forgettable, then “Rock of Ages” is the film for you. If, however, you’re a fan of the music itself, you should just put your headphones on and give a listen to your old LPs/tapes/CDs/eight-tracks.