Director: Adam Shankman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta Jones, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Bilge, Bryan Cranston
Plot: Dreamers Sherry (Hough) and Drew (Boneta) head to a Rock N Roll strip in LA to pursue dreams of living the Rock N Roll lifestyle. But is it as easy as it sounds?
You must begin to wonder why directors attempt to make movie versions of musicals after a while. Stage musicals are often a cherished part of the theatre-goers lifestyle and, while it must take a fair amount of passion and effort to bring it to life in a movie, there is something so cynical and manufactured about it. A carbon copy of something that many people feel should be left alone. Add that to the fact that, for those not into the musical scene, this is a film likely to be skipped over by the majority of the cinema population, except for the cynical fanbase, and Rock of Ages seems like a misplaced bet.
Yet, you can see why Rock of Ages would feel like the musical to break that trend. As far as a play about people breaking into songs to show their emotions, Rock of Ages doesn’t truly feel too cheesy. The hits are not a high-pitched ballad sung by a star-struck lover, but the best rock hits from the 80s, more of a shining testament to the golden age of Rock N Roll than a melodramatic sing-a-long. If you hate musicals, perhaps the thought of the characters bursting into Foreigner or Def Leppard might change your mind. That being said, as Rock of Ages plays out, there is a downside to the choice of music here. Rock is a little too complex a genre of music to blend smoothly with a storyline. While in most musicals, Les Miserables’ stripped back soundtrack means that it, to a certain extent, feels quite natural that Hugh Jackman would burst into song, there is a little too much going on to make these rock songs feel like a true extension of the characters feelings. There are backing vocals, screeching guitar solos and thumping drum beats. As Diego Boneta searches for a record in a music store, before breaking into Juke Box Hero, it doesn’t quite land. You are pulled out of the romance kindling between Boneta and Julianne Hough, as the spotlight comes down, the extras morph into punk rockers and a guitar comes out of nowhere. Rock of Ages is hardly the first musical to have its hits pre-recorded in a studio and added onto the footage in post-production, but Rock of Ages has a nasty habit of continuously affirming this fact. It doesn’t help that in between the songs, the acting isn’t quite there. Julianne Hough and Diego Bonata are asked to play it loud and broad, often wildly sprouting cheese-ball dialogue, screaming their feelings from the rooftops with almost every line. It means that the central pair never feel like anything more than cardboard cut-out stereotypes moving the story along. In fairness, they are not the only ones to be strapped with an emphasis on overacting. Catherine Zeta Jones is lumped with a villain who tears into every scene with the subtlety of a train crash. And Zeta Jones is an actress of considerable talent, suggesting this style of acting must be a decision by director Shankman, rather than the actors. The only actor I can honestly point at and say delivers a poor performance is Russell Brand, whose accent ranges from every borough in the United Kingdom. Then there are those like Mary J Bilge who the writers seem to forget to even give a character. The story is typical musical too, so concerned with where the next song is coming from that they miss the finer parts of the story. Zeta Jones’ villain concocts a reasonably clever plan of taking down the main Rock N Roll venue through taxes, but then goes on to do nothing of the sort for the whole movie, deciding to stage a seemingly useless protest instead.
The movie does have a saving grace. Perhaps those regulars of my blog might be a little frustrated with how often I turn to gushing over Tom Cruise, but it must be said that he fuels this movie. Stacie Jaxx might not be the main character of the movie, but he is the best. A rock icon breaking out on a solo career and destructively affecting the plot without even realising it. Cruise’s Jaxx is nothing like the stageshow’s take on the character, less arrogantly cruel and more lost in his own mythology. This is not a bad thing; Jaxx is such a grandiose character I imagine that every actor has to build the man up from scratch. Like Doctor Who, no two actors will ever emerge with the same figure. Cruise’s Jaxx is a rock icon who has lost his way, so used to being treated as a God by his fans that he has lost all touch on reality. He is the kind of drunken fool who will be asked a question and somehow concoct an answer with nothing to with the question at hand, like some sort of stoned, sexy politician. Yet Cruise plays Jaxx with a glimmer of goodness, a spark of decency trapped in a decaying body trying to break free. Cruise’s acting doesn’t even escape the melodrama everyone else is subjected to, but through Cruise, it is a precise tool. It helps the character is born for scene-chewing, but Tom Cruise takes it to another level. Speaking in a raspy whisper and moving as though he is moving through air thicker than the rest of us… we are hanging on every moment with the character. And that voice! Rock of Ages main selling point is finally hearing the iconic actor sing, something never heard before. We could even argue that the entire plot is an excuse to just have Cruise of Stacie Jaxx – further pushing Hough and Boneta into the background of their own movie. He does not disappoint, hitting us with some amazing cult rock tunes. It’s not just the singing, but the actor’s total commitment to the dancing. Him singing I Wanna Know What Love Is, while being seduced by a reporter is something everyone needs to see.
Final Verdict: Rock of Ages is a flawed musical, but some great tunes and a wondrous performance from Tom Cruise saves it from being a failure. Good fun.