Rock of Ages

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Release Date: June 15, 2012
Runtime: 123 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros. / New Line Cinema
Director: Adam Shankman
Cast: Julianne Hough; Diego Boneta; Alec Baldwin; Russell Brand; Paul Giamatti; Catherine Zeta-Jones; Bryan Cranston; Malin Akerman; Mary J. Blige; Tom Cruise

The Broadway musical upon which this movie is based, while not great art by any stretch, is better. Period. Adam Shankman’s adaptation of the hit jukebox musical that’s been rockin’ the Helen Hayes Theatre for years, has style and some fun performances, but this show really doesn’t translate well to film. I think the main reason is this: these songs (“Don’t Stop Believin,’” “Sister Christian,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It”) are the types of rock anthems that are best heard live, blaring through speakers at deafening decibels, sung by singers who look like their vocal chords are about to pop out of their necks!

The Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip is the setting for this story of love and rock. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is a young innocent fresh off the bus from Oklahoma, seeking fame and fortune as a singer in Hollywood. In town for less than ten seconds, she immediately becomes a cliché by having her luggage stolen, but is rescued in a meet-cute by Drew (Diego Boneta), a barback at The Bourbon Room, a Whiskey A Go-Go-type music venue. The Bourbon Room is managed by aging rocker Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his second-in-command, Lonny (Russell Brand), but it’s the target of a “Clean Up The Streets” campaign led by Patricia Whitmore (a good, but underused Catherine Zeta-Jones). The club is abuzz gearing up for a rare appearance by legendary rocker Stacee Jaxx (a very good and game Tom Cruise), which will hopefully bring the club some much-needed cash.

Throughout all of this, a compendium of greatest hits of 80’s rock standards (in addition to the songs mentioned above, we have renditions of “I Wanna Know What Love Is,” “I Love Rock n Roll,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Don’t Need Nothing But A Good Time,” among others) weaves its way through the story. In the tradition of recent movie musicals such as “Hairspray” and “Mamma Mia” all of the actors do their own singing, with various degrees of success. For instance, Tom Cruise definitely sells his cover of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive,” but Baldwin and Brand’s two duets (!) will make you want to rip your ears off – it would be less painful.

Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta are both very sweet kids and seem to be having a good time together, but it’s the secondary characters (i.e., the bigger names in the cast), that are the primary draw. Tom Cruise is all hammy fun as an over-the-top mash-up of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and every other rock god you can think of. You either love him or hate him as a personality, but he is no question a hoot here. Alec Baldwin can’t sing and, in my opinion, was miscast. Russell Brand wasn’t that great either, but at least he has that rock star, outlaw edge about him. Catherine Zeta-Jones (an actual musical theater alumnus) looks great, but doesn’t have much to do, although she more than pulls off her one major song and dance number (Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”). But again, these songs are meant to be heard live, and loud, not lip-synched like we’re watching an episode of “Glee.”

Shankman (directing his second movie musical after “Hairspray”) stages the musical sequences with style and energy, but has more difficulty keeping that energy up during the non-musical parts. When the actors have to recite dialogue, the movie grinds to a halt and it’s a glaring distraction. These lulls in action kill whatever momentum the movie has and with songs like these, this movie should be nothing BUT momentum. It’s kind of a letdown. At least when you’re watching the play, you have the advantage of hearing the songs sung live and belted out by Broadway singers who understand their intention. The plain and simple virtue of live performance imbues “Rock of Ages” with a vigor that the movie can never match. See the play.

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