Tom Cruise Steals The Show In Earnest Yet Trashy ‘Rock Of Ages’
By STEWART SMITH
"Rock of Ages" is garish, trashy, shallow and often ridiculous. In other words, it's a perfect reflection of the '80s glam rock and hair metal that provides its backbone.
I don't know that there's anyone out there who (if they're being wholly honest with themselves) can call the vast majority of glam rock/hair metal "good" music, but it is fun and the same can be said for "Rock of Ages." This is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but there's a confidence that it exudes that's difficult to ignore. Like a hair metal frontman, the presentation is shallow and silly but you have to admit it goes for the gusto. If nothing else, its heart is in the right place.
Based on the Broadway show of the same name, "Rock of Ages" focuses on Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta). She's a small-town girl who heads to Hollywood with a suitcase full of her favorite rock records and dreams of being a superstar singer. He's a city boy stuck working at The Bourbon Room (standing in for LA's famous Whiskey A Go Go) while he struggles to get his rock band noticed. They meet when Drew tries to rescue Sherrie from a mugging and it's not long before Drew's talked his boss, Dennis (Alec Baldwin), into giving Sherrie a job. They bond over their love of rock music, particularly one Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), and almost immediately fall head-over-heels for each other.
Meanwhile, new LA mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his Tipper Gore-esque moral crusader of a wife, Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) pledge to shut down the Bourbon Room in an effort to clean up the Sunset Strip, ridding it of all the sex, drugs and rock n' roll it perpetuates.
Patricia is looking for even the smallest excuse to shut down the Bourbon Room, and unless Dennis can come up with the $32,000 in back taxes he owes, Patricia will have her excuse. Dennis' only hope is that his old friend, the wildly unreliable Stacee Jaxx, can come through with one final concert that will raise the necessary money. However, given that Stacee mostly stumbles through his comically self-indulgent life in a haze of alcohol and women (he also has to be tricked by his manager into getting to gigs on time), there's no guarantee that will actually happen.
Of course, all of this is punctuated by bursts of song and dance, with all of the songs beings renditions of jukebox staples such as Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me," Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock," Foreigner's "Jukebox Hero" to name a few. It's during these numbers that the movie jolts to life and manages to have a respectable pulse. At all other points you're mostly left wondering why you should care. The romance between Drew and Sherrie feels perfunctory at best, as does the circumstance under which they break up. The result is a relationship that feels like it was added for little reason other than an excuse to match it up to the inevitable performance of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."
The airlessness of their relationship is due to it being flimsy on the page, but also because there's zero spark between Boneta and Hough. They coexist in the frame and seem to try and make it work, but there's just nothing there.
Thankfully, Cruise shows up every time the movie threatens to turn into a giant bore and throws out a performance that is nothing if not laudable for its level of commitment. Cruise has always given 110 percent and that's certainly what we get here. He cranks up the spaced out weirdness to such an entertaining level that it's hard not to leave wishing the movie had instead been about Stacee's fall and rise back to superstardom.
"Rock of Ages" really wants to come across as sincere and earnest in its love story, though, which is almost hilariously at odds with how trashy and garish it is in its musical numbers. There's a love scene/sing off between Stacee and a Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman) that might be the most lasciviously chaste showcase of sexuality I've ever seen. If that seems like a gigantic contradiction of terms, that's precisely how it comes across on screen. They writhe around in their underwear but that's about as far as it goes. It pretends to have an edge to it but never steps across the line.
My biggest issue with the movie is how distractingly terrible the dubbing is on the songs. Most movie musicals aren't recorded live on-set and require additional recording and replacement, but the way it's done here makes it not only obvious the actors are lip-syncing on set, but the dubbing sounds like it's been piped in from another soundstage. This feels particularly egregious when it comes to Cruise's singing which also been Auto-Tuned out the wazoo.
The result is what essentially feels like Celebrity Karaoke. These are the songs that you loved blasting from the radio when you popped the top on your I-ROC Camaro, but there's little originality to any of it. Also, it's more than a little jarring that the movie is populated by bands both fictional and real while also pretending that the songs the characters sing are originals they've written.
I can't in good conscience call this a good movie, but I also can't deny that I had some amount of fun while watching it. It works in spite of itself and I could see this catching on being done as a midnight show with karaoke lyrics popping up on the screen and the audience encouraged to wail along with it.