Review: 'Rock of Ages' fails to turn up volume

Film's straight, narrow approach fails

Author: Michelle Solomon, Contributing writer
Published On: Jun 15 2012 12:52:35 PM EDT
Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages

"Rock of Ages" is a lot like fanny packs, leg warmers and spoon rings. The detriment that they all share in common is that their desire to be taken seriously makes them entirely useless.

There are reasons early on in the movie musical a la "Mama Mia" that builds a storyline around 1980s chart toppers to have high hopes. Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) is a small town girl from Oklahoma who hops a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles to make it as a singer in the music business, circa 1987. As she begins to fantasize about her future, she starts to sing along to the music on her Sony Walkman. It's "Sister Christian" by Night Ranger and it just so happens that everyone on the bus, even the bus driver knows the lyrics. It's silly, campy and could have set the tone for a totally tricked out, tongue-in-cheek look at an era that basically smirked at its own self indulgence.

The hopes are soon dashed when Sherrie steps off the bus, and everything turns to mush, melodrama and those "oh-so-many I saw that coming" moments. Her suitcase is stolen by a mugger (which, if I thought more of the film, I'd believe it was a nod to the incredibly bad Joe Esterhaus film "Showgirls", but I don't think we're dealing with that kind of depth.) A cute guy named Drew (a constantly doe-eyed Diego Boneta) witnesses this display and comes to her rescue. Feeling bad for her plight, he offers to get her a job where he works. It's a place that Sherrie has dreamed about for years, a former rock palace on the Sunset Strip called The Bourbon Room. Sherrie meets owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) who advises her to rethink her decision to want to work there. "This place is about to become a sea of sweat, ear-shattering music and puke," he advises.

His sidekick is a big-haired Brit named Lonny (a fabulously over the top Russell Brand). The club is on the verge of bankruptcy and is also being targeted by outspoken activists who believe that rock 'n' roll music is at the root of the decline of civilization (count how many times you've seen that subplot in a movie). Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the wife of L.A's new mayor and she has a personal reason vendetta to see rock legend Stacie Jaxx (Tom Cruise) fall. Jaxx is a celebrity god whose very presence fires up fundamentalists, inspires "kids" like Drew and Sherrie, and turns any woman into a sex-crazed groupie.

Jaxx has a greasy manager named Paul, played by Paul Giamatti, who, thank goodness, doesn't have to sing in the film. Mary J. Blige as a strip club proprietor is a bright spot in the film, but she doesn't get enough screen time. Perhaps Cruise should have given some of his up to Blige, since each time he appears on camera, "Rock of Ages" feels like it will just keep going on and on and on and on.

The fault in this whole jukebox jumble lies with the creamsicle script by writers Justin Theroux (the current Mr. Jennifer Aniston), Chris D'Arienzo (who wrote the original Broadway show) and Allan Loeb that fights the feeling at every turn to deliver a rock 'n' roll film of ear splitting proportions. Director Adam Shankman, whose "Hairspray" on film was so inspiring, can't seem to give the same lift to "Rock of Ages."
Cruise must have known he was getting involved with a turkey; he's the one that demanded a monkey be added to the script as his sidekick. You know there's trouble in paradise when the biggest scene stealer is a baboon with a drinking problem.