Hair Bands Still Suck ~ Movie Review of ‘Rock of Ages’ Starring Tom Cruise

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on August 19, 2012 0 Comments

Egad, Rock of Ages was hard to stomach. Yet, I will give it credit for having a smart advertising campaign which persuaded someone like me, an unabashed hater of 80’s rock music, to want to see it. The previews made Tom Cruise’s character, Stacee Jaxx, seem interesting and the plot fun. What I found was a film which will only appeal to anyone that actually liked the musical attempts of bands such as Poison, Def Leppard, and Air Supply.

           The time is 1987, which for those of us who lived through the eighties felt a bit late in terms of all of the hair band popularity – although Guns & Roses broke out in the mid to late 80s. The setting is a historic rock club in Los Angeles called The Bourbon Room located on the Sunset Strip and presumably modeled after The Roxy and Whiskey a Go Go. The manager/owner, played by Alec Baldwin, is having money issues and political problems (the current mayor and his wife want to clean the city of the ill influence of rock clubs) and desperately needs the upcoming Stacee Jaxx show to put him back in the black or he will lose the club.

            Arriving on a bus from Oklahoma is Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) who hopes to make it big as a singer. Like all young innocents arriving in Hollywood with dreams of fame and their life stored in a suitcase it takes only minutes for her to be robbed – the theft included all of her beloved albums. Lucky for her a beer back from The Bourbon Room, Drew Boley (played by the underwhelming Diego Boneta) sees everything go down and offers Sherrie a shoulder to cry on as well as an introduction to his boss which leads to a waitressing job. What unsuspecting viewers don’t know when they walk into the theater is that the heart of the movie revolves around these two characters and neither Hough or Boneta have the acting chops or star power to pull their roles off.

          Listen, I have nothing against Julianne Hough, I actually think it is cool that she spun a dancing gig on Dancing with the Stars into something bigger, however she has a weak voice and has probably been landing roles (she played the female lead in the recent remake of Footloose) way out of her league – I’ll just whisper the name Ryan Seacrest. Although the music from this era isn’t very complicated, it does require a throaty bluesy projection which Hough’s girlish voice can’t produce even with, one assumes, the help of auto-tune.

          The biggest selling point of Rock of Ages is that it has a plethora of famous faces. Along with the before mentioned actors, the movie stars; Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mary J. Blige, Malin Åkerman, Will Forte, and Bryan Cranston. Despite the unarguable acting and comedic talent, only Mary J. Blige, and to a lesser degree Catherine Zeta-Jones, can carry a tune and believe me you really notice the lack of musicality within the cast. I’m guessing Adam Shankman who directed and produced the film (there were several producers including Tobey Maguire) wanted recognizable stars than lesser names who could carry a tune. I think the lack of musical talent put an unfair burden on Cruise. It made his weak singing skills more apparent because after Hough and Boneta he had the most time on screen. On the other hand Blige’s performance stands out precisely because she can sing even though her character could have easily been cut out of the story.

         The movie poster and trailer for Rock of Ages promise a hint of comedy because why else would Russell Brand be cast? Most of the laughs tend to be visual (a woman preparing an eighties hairstyle using an unhealthy amount of hairspray). There is one scene that includes a duet between Baldwin and Brand which was humorous but not hilarious. However the largest disappointment in the laugh department is Cruise’s Stacee Jaxx which could have been brilliant performance under the right circumstances. Cruise can surprisingly nail comedy to such a degree that in Tropic Thunder his role of Les Grossman basically stole the movie from Ben Stiller and the rest of the esteemed co-stars. I was hoping for another performance of that caliber and although I think Cruise gave it his all but the script and songs were too much a hindrance. 

        I don’t recommend seeing
Rock of Ages in the theater. I don’t think it will play well on DVD or cable either because the plot is lame, the humor uninteresting, the leads weak, plus it has a storyline centered around music that is best left locked in the memories of fans who originally sported mall bangs and mullets twenty-five years ago.

       Happy viewing!

Westerfield © 2012

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