Julianne Hough as Sherrie Christian
Diego Boneta as Drew Boley
Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx
Alec Baldwin as Dennis Dupree
Russell Brand as Lonny
Bryan Cranston as Mike Whitmore
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Patricia Whitmore
Celina Beach as Mayor’s Secretary
Angelo Valderrama as Chico
Paul Giamatti as Paul Gill
Kevin Nash as Stacee’s Bodyguard
Jeff Chase as Stacee’s Bodyguard
Malin Akerman as Constance Sack
Will Forte as Mitch Miley
Mary J. Blige as Justice Charlier
Constantine Maroulis as Record Executive
Eli Roth as Stefano
T.J. Miller as Rolling Stone Receptionist
Directed by Adam Shankman
In 1987, two young dreamers, Oklahoma singer Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) and rocker Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), meet and fall in love at the Bourbon Room on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip while hoping for their big breaks. Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) is more concerned with the club’s financial health, something that might be solved by the upcoming final performance by rock group Arsenal before their lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) begins a solo career. Meanwhile, the mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his religious wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) want to put a stop to the rock ‘n’ roll corrupting the city’s youth by closing the Bourbon Room.
Anyone who has experienced “Rock of Ages” on Broadway knows how fun it was to be in that rock show/party atmosphere created by its joyous celebration of ’80s hair metal, complete with alcohol and a live rock band. The people responsible somehow figured out how to tie all those once-cheesy ’80s metal songs into a strong narrative to make something that’s created diehard fans who would see the show dozens, even hundreds of times. Boy, are those fans going to be pissed when they see that “Hairspray” director Adam Shankman has pretty much thrown out the entire book and most of the songs from the musical to just do his own thing.
Instead, Shankman’s “Rock Of Ages” is a bunch of ’80s songs sloppily cobbled together with dialogue used more to introduce each song than to create any sort of narrative. It may have been more appropriate to call the movie “Rock of Montages,” as Shankman abuses that storytelling device whenever possible. Shankman essentially makes what could have been a cheesy and corny musical even cheesier and cornier in his translation to the screen.
Casting Julianne Hough may have been one of his smart movies, because anyone who’s seen “Footlose” knows that her vocal prowess is matched by actual acting talent. Sadly, we can’t say the same about newcomer Diego Boneta, a pretty boy with vocal chops but very little to set himself apart ala a Zac Efron. Part of the reason the musical worked was that they cast actual rock singers rather than getting actors and singers from other musical genres to belt out songs by Journey, Foreigner, Def Leppard, Pat Benatar and Poison. None of the songs have much oomph as sung by Hough and Boneta. There’s no actual “rockin’ out” here as we’re subjected to canned and lipsynced karaoke versions of songs that probably made most people want to gouge out their eardrums during the ’80s. When Constantine Maroulis, who played the part of Drew on Broadway, makes a brief cameo and sings two lines with more power than anything Boneta has to offer, it just makes it worse.
As one can expect, none of this is taken too seriously, and the movie does offer a few funny bits – though considering this is from the director of “Bringing Down the House” and “The Pacifier,” we’d be careful in actually calling it a “comedy.” Most of the laughs come from Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as the Bourbon Room’s owner and MC, respectively, but Shankman’s decision to take their bromance too far makes one wonder why he might find the idea of two men having a romantic relationship something that should be used merely for the audience’s amusement or laughs.
The film’s one saving grace is Tom Cruise as rocker Stacee Jaxx, a mad as a loon superstar who can get anything he wants but clearly isn’t happy with this narcissistic lifestyle, his true misery brought to light in an interview with a journalist, played by Malin Akerman. That interview will remind some of Cruise’s great work in P.T. Anderson’s “Magnolia” – unfortunately so does the moment later in the movie where it cuts between various members of the cast singing lines from Poison’s “Every Rose Has a Thorn.” Otherwise, this separate parallel story arc created for Jaxx, something not in the original musical, makes him the most well-rounded character in the movie and the only one with any sort of depth. That’s a shame since the movie is supposed to be about Sherrie and Drew.
Oh, there’s also the plotline about the mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his ultra-Christian Tipper Gore-like wife, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is trying to end rock ‘n’ roll and close the Bourbon Room – a plot derived from the musical that’s quickly forgotten once Stacee Jaxx enters the picture, only to be revived later. The movie’s other considerable ringer is Paul Giamatti who is just fine playing Stacee’s sleazy and corrupt manager, but even that isn’t enough to salvage the movie from flat performances like that of singer Mary J. Blige. At 73 years old, Tina Turner would have played a far more convincing strip club madam.
The Bottom Line:
“Rock of Ages” has about as much energy as one might expect from a celebrity karaoke session consisting solely of cheesy ’80s metal tunes, a boring and forgettable affair that may lay claim to being the worst rock musical ever put on film. Cruise’s dedication to giving Stacee Jaxx depth is lost on the rest of the production.