Bottom Line: Rock of Ages, end for me.
Directed by: Adam Shankman
Sherrie Christian: Julianne Hough
Drew Boley: Diego Boneta
Stacee Jaxx: Tom Cruise
Also Starring: Alec Baldwin, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeff Chase, Kevin Nash, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, Paul Giamatti, Russell Brand, Will Forte
As I watch Rock of Ages, I feel like I’m watching the opening act at a long-anticipated concert. For two hours, our ears our subjected to ear-splitting musical numbers, dismally sung and choreographed. Suddenly, the band shouts, “Thank you! Goodbye!” The difference between Rock of Ages and an opening act is that instead of the concert we’ve been waiting for, the moment of a lifetime, all we get is a credits sequence that makes us want to throw the remote at the TV. We know that’s Alec Baldwin! We know that’s Russell Brand! We know that’s Catherine Zeta-Jones! Does the crew somehow not know how freaking prestigious and well-known the chosen cast is? Yes, it’s a movie that makes it easy to go nuts over something as minute as stating the obvious.
Notice that I wrote “ear-splitting musical numbers”. It’s not the songs themselves that are awful, but how they are beaten to such a pulp. Please don’t get me wrong. I love Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane”, Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock”, Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize”, Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me”, Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, and several other classic glam rock melodies that feature in Rock of Ages. But they’re all (with the exception of the original recordings, which are played as background music during the end credits) so dreadfully spat upon. I’d like to say the source material, a recent Broadway musical of the same name, was butchered massively by the screenwriting trio, but I’ve never seen it to say so in a justifiable sense. This adaptation does nothing at all to make me curious about the stage interpretation, either. This is an effort to take basically every song from the ’80s and place them in the scenes where the story matches up best. The result: pacing that varies between horrific and nonexistent, several verses cut from these classics, and a story that’s difficult to keep track of. What a mess!
Rock of Ages takes its title from a Def Leppard song, but the premise is undeniably from “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Foreigner. The year is 1987. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is a small-town girl traveling to L.A. to pursue a musical career. Drew (Diego Boneta) is a city boy working at a bar where glam rock bands perform on a regular basis. They’re trashy, dirty, and out-of-control. Incidentally, so is the film’s hand with realism. Sherrie’s last name is “Christian”, and it fits her quite well. She’s a reserved, smart, and wholesome out-of-towner. And with all this known about her from the very start, we’re honestly supposed to expect to believe that she’s eager to work at such a god-awful bar? I’m not so sure about that. Oh wait, there’s something later in the film, as well: after quitting her job at the bar, Sherrie is offered a job at a strip club. And she accepts it. Gosh, if turning a person defined by manners into a stripper is as easy as jamming out to “Any Way You Want It”, why don’t I just send every dollar I own to Tina Fey, and expect that she’ll be my new co-writer in two weeks’ time?
Rock of Ages is unbelievably flawed. It’s difficult to find a single scene that doesn’t trip over something huge. And it tries to be a comedy, but the success is incredulously scarce. Okay, I did laugh once. The scene was when Catherine Zeta-Jones’s villainous character (whose stupidity is about as honorable as the heroes’ filth) is addressing her fellow Christian gals. She sputters, “This man spews out three things: sex…hateful music…and……sex!” It’s not this line that’s so funny. What is funny is that less than thirty seconds later, she and her disciples break out singing and dancing to “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”, perhaps the most provocative dance number in the entire movie. Unless, of course, you count the love scene in which Tom Cruise and Malin Akerman practically gasp out Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”, as a dance number. Rock of Ages enclosed one or two successful bright spots. One of these occurred within the last fifteen minutes (gee, you barely had my attention), when Starship’s “We Built This City” and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” are mashed up into one heatedly brawling musical number. Assuming you actually stayed awake throughout the prior portion of the movie, there’s a good purpose for the scene, I guess. I didn’t demand much of this film, nor am I sure I actually demanded anything. I did have some fun–massively stupid fun. But I was also frequently finding hope in a Gospel song called “Rock of Ages (Cleft for Me)”. Just for this very occasion, my lyrics went: “Rock of Ages, end for me / One more minute may kill me!”