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Movie ReviewsRating: 3 of 5 yaps

Rock of Ages

“Rock of Ages” is a soundtrack with a visual component tacked on. It’s not so much a musical movie as music with a movie.

Based on a Broadway show, “Rock of Ages” is virtually nonstop singing. The story is told through the lyrics and tunes of 1980s rock hits, sometimes intermixed with each other. Occasionally the characters will cease singing long enough for a few lines of dialogue. But even then there’s a beat going in the background, and you know the talkie part is just setting up the next number.

The experience of watching it is akin to listening to a runaway jukebox stuck in the 1970s and ’80s, except the voices are replaced by those of actors who can’t sing as well as the original artists.

Not that some of them aren’t good, and occasionally really good. Among the latter is Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, a wastrel rock god who’s part Iggy Pop, a little bit Axl Rose and a smidge of Bret Michaels (at least the hat). Cruise’s pipes are surprisingly good, doing an impressive rendition of the keening wail beloved in that era.

In fact, Cruise is the best thing in the show. It’s a shrewdly comedic performance, part celebration of ’80s rock excesses but with a heavy ladling of satire. One scene where he seduces a Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman) is the movie’s rollicking high point.

Even though it’s technically a supporting part, Cruise steals every scene he’s in, and whenever Jaxx disappears for too long, the film deflates.

Certainly, the main characters are dreary. Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta play Sherrie and Drew, youngsters who dream of making it big in the music biz but end up working at the fictional Bourbon Room in Los Angeles. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before they get to take the stage themselves.

Neither actor is a particularly adept singer, and Hough has one of those pinched little-girl voices that sounds like she’s singing through a keyhole a la Britney Spears. She even imitates Spears’ colossally annoying affection of starting every stanza with a little croaky sound.

Sherrie is the prototypical small-town girl from Tulsa, living in a lonely world, and Drew is a city boy, so of course their signature song is “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” by Journey, a band that gets a heavy rotation throughout the movie. Other tunes include ones by Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison and other acts Generation X-ers like myself grew up on.

I find it amusing that back in the actual ’80s, these songs were disdainfully described by our elders and betters as representing the nadir of rock ‘n’ roll, a glammed-up shadow of the good ol’ days. And now they’re being held up as paragons of the genre.

I take note that in the time this story is set, 1987, the ’50s were seen as the heyday. No doubt, in 25 years today’s Millennials will be middle-aged sellouts looking back on the halcyon days of Lady Gaga and Ke$ha, God help us.

Alec Baldwin plays Dennis, the owner of the Bourbon, which has rock ‘n’ roll soaked into its timbers but is perpetually on the verge of going out of business. It’s being helped in that regard by the new mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his wife, Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who’s leading a Tipper Gore-esque crusade against smutty rock ‘n’ roll. Of course, she does so via singing and dancing and is ultimately and unsurprisingly revealed to be a former Stacee Jaxx groupie.

Russell Brand plays Lonny, Dennis’s right-hand rocker, and they share a romantic musical interlude that manages to be funny without being homophobic. Paul Giamatti is agreeably sleazy as Jaxx’s mercenary agent, who robs the Bourbon of the take from Stacee’s farewell concert.

Mary J. Blige, the only real singer in the mix, has a nice turn as the manager of a strip club where Sherrie ends up during her inevitable down-and-out phase. Drew’s pit of despair is much funnier, as he gets recruited into a pop boy band, complete with rainbow-colored gangsta preppy outfits.

Director Adam Shankman does much the same thing with “Rock of Ages” he did several years ago with “Hairspray,” which was sort of a 1960s version of this. He supplies a lot of energy and color, but the whirlwind winds up being more exhausting than invigorating.

At 123 minutes, screenwriters Allan Loeb, Justin Theroux and Chris D’Arienzo (based on the musical book by D’Arienzo) seemed to have a hard time knowing when to quit while they were ahead. Since the story is built entirely around songs, cutting it down would’ve meant eliminating tunes, and one gets the sense the filmmakers spent so much energy getting the rights to the songs they couldn’t bring themselves to lop a couple out.

“Rock of Ages” has a few genuine thrills, most of them centering around Cruise’s fun, freewheeling turn as Stacee Jaxx. Most of the time, though, it feels like an iPod stuck in shuffle mode.

3 Yaps

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7 Responses to “Rock of Ages”

  1. Becky Meredith says:

    I Loved this Movie. A total spoof of the 80’s. It is funny how they push that this is Tom Cruise and Catherine’s Movie , in reality, they are bit players to the whole movie. This is Totally Julianne and Diago’s movie. I would go see this one again. I agree with previous post, it is a Hairspray type Musical but so much fun! Brought back memories of the hairstyles, music and clothes from that era!

  2. Kristi W says:

    can’t wait to go see this.. just haven’t had time. Ugh.. the music alone is worth going to see. plus I want to see TC sing.. and I love JH. Im sure this one wont get any oscar buzz but most of the movies the average person goes to see don’t.. it’s a musical.. it’s a fun movie.. :)

  3. James says:

    I thought the movie was pretty good.It was a great throw back to 80s rock and roll. It had some scenes involving 80s boy bands. Which I thought went a little to long for its own good. The plot fades to the background as …well the it just gives the characters an excuse to sing and dance. So overall I agree with this reviewer. Though for some of us it might be better to listen to the real deal than to go see this movie.

  4. Kent P says:

    Rock of Ages is receiving more criticism than it deserves (IMHO). Yes, it is not a classic musical in the sense of the 30’s or 40’s, but it is a modern musical that is over the top fun. It is “Hairspray” for an older crowd. The characters are largely parodies, but the cast plays them with intensity. The music is fun and in many cases will bring a smile to your face. To even imagine Tom Cruise as a rock icon is so absurd, that that is part of the fun of this movie. It is a feel good movie with some poignant moments and lots of over the top acting. Every time Baldwin was on the screen I kept expecting him to say: “What’s in your wallet?” I enjoyed the movie immensely cause it made me laugh, snicker and smile. It was a poke fun at the industry, the times and its people; and I feel it delivered. I recommend this movie, but advise people to take it for what it is, a laughable romp not a best picture winner.

  5. kellie t says:

    I thought the movie was decent. I love 80s music. I did not like the mocking of the church though.

  6. Barney says:

    After seeing the previews, decided to wait for this one to come out on DVD. Was not impresed,. Wouldn’t be disappointed if I missed it.

  7. Gabrielle Williams says:

    I saw this last week and even though i don’t like musicals i thought the movie was good.