The thing with Rock of Ages is, first of all, it’s a musical. Yes, it’s an obvious thing to start off with, but as with all musicals, that means if you don’t like the music, avoid this film. The music in question is 80’s rock ‘n’ roll, hair metal and the like, with standards from the likes of Bon Jovi, Journey and Poison all making appearances.
Now that that’s out of the way, onto the film.
Rock of Ages, based on the audience favourite stage musicals playing in New York and London (which I can confirm is excellent, having scene it twice, once in each location), is a story of rock, love and fame. The story of the film diverts from the stage show, which works in some places, but less so in others. The focus of the story becomes that of Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta) and their romance as they pursue Hollywood fame in the music business. Alongside these two are a star studded groups of supporting players, from Alec Baldwin and a surprisingly tolerable Russell Brand as club owners Denis and Lonnie, Catherine Zeta-Jones as the fanatically religious Patricia Whitmore, and the cast highlight, Tom Cruise, as the burnt out, drug addled rock star Stacee Jaxx.
Cruise really brings his all to this performance, giving one of my favourites of his more recent turns, with energy, amusing melancholy, and a surprisingly good voice to the table. You can’t help but be reminded of Frank T. J. Mackey from Magnolia when you see him in this. He manages to upstage everyone around him, with all audience memebers focusing entirely on him whenever he’s on stage, particularly when he’s giving rousing renditions of Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ and Def Leppard’s ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’.
Of course, not all of the renditions work on film as well as they do on stage, particularly when you consider the predilection the film has of Hough walking down LA Streets singing power ballads (some of which work, others not so much). This leads on to one of the flaws of the film – the two leads. They’re not bad by any means, but their acting talent and chemistry is called into question when you compare them to some of the people around them. Boneta in particular, while fairly well cast physically and having a solid voice, seems very flat in his acting, and this really weakens his chemistry with Hough, who, while admittedly having one of the strongest voices in the company, does begin to grate on occasion.
The music, for me at least, was of course of the highlight of the film. While not being of my era, it is music that I love, and so many of the choices that aren’t in the stage show work so well, particularly the medley of ‘We Built This City’ and ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, filled with energy, a surprisingly vocally competent Brand, and Zeta-Jones, who is a vocal powerhouse, also knocking ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ (complete with church/gospel style opening), right out of the park.
The issue of altering the focus of the story so much, is that the subplots that worked so well on stage seem a bit out of place here. While Zeta-Jones’ plot works well, that of her characters husband, Mayor Whitmore (played well by an underused Bryan Cranston) seems irrelevant. And of course, the pacing is something of an issue. No, the film is by no means too long, at just over two hours, and, let’s face it, musicals tend to run for at least a couple of hours. The issue is, the dialogue lacks the energy that so many of the musical numbers have, and it can’t help but make the film lag. The script is by no means weak, it has some excellent laughs, some of which are achieved through musical numbers, particularly ‘I Can’t Fight This Felling’.
The film’s best asset is that it’s simply entertaining. Some of the performances are over the top, particularly Zeta-Jones, but in this film, they work perfectly, whereas in others they’d be slammed. It’s by no means for everyone, and those who haven’t seen the stage show may not ‘get it’, but it’s two hours of fun.
Flawed, and with underwhelming leads, it could be easy to write off Rock of Ages as a missfire, especially given some of the other reviews that weren’t as fond of it as I. But, if you like the music, give it a chance. It’s an enjoyable rock and roll romp with some excellent supporting performances and musical numbers you’ll have to restrain yourself from singing along to.