By Tim Posada, 6/21/2012
“Rock of Ages” is an uneven effort that does more to display Julianna Hough’s body than her acting chops, but it still manages some charm, with several delightful performances and a few memorable musical installments. But in the midst of homage and nostalgia, the latest Broadway-hit-turned-film forgets to tell a cohesive story or create enough memorable musical performances.
As an homage to ‘80s hair metal, this recent Broadway smash relies more on the familiarity of its tunes than the originality of the story. Small town hottie Sherrie Christian (Hough) tries to find a greater life purpose in the gritty streets of Los Angeles. Although Christian is her last name, she wishes to be nearer to the rock music she loves, which seems to contradict her prudish name. After landing a job at The Bourbon Club, thanks to rock star hopeful/bartender Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), Christian begins to find love and the meaning to all the loud noise of which she can’t get enough. Meanwhile, Bourbon club owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) has one last chance to save his venue from going under: the final performance of metal legends Arsenal, before lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) goes solo.
“Rock of Ages” suffers from the same lack of spectacle found in producer Christopher Columbus’ attempt at “Rent”. But “Rent” made up for its rather bland direction with familiar faces — namely many of the cast members from the original show and other Broadway familiars. “Rock of Ages” pulls almost completely from Hollywood. Sure, Russell Brand performed some hilarious songs in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, but that hardly qualifies him for this film. Paul Giamatti’s flat voice is on par with Pierce Brosnan’s abysmal singing in the equally “Hollywooded” version of “Mamma Mia!” Luckily, Mary J. Blige, as the Venus strip club owner, Justice Charlier, makes use of her R&B voice, while Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the over-zealous, Bible-thumping, metal-hating mayor’s wife, Patricia Whitmore, pulls off a fun number here, but both grace the stage for far too little time.
As for Hough, the rising star who made her mainstream debut on “Dancing with the Stars”, it’s difficult to care about such a typical caricature. Yes, Cruise milks the eccentric artist persona, but Hough does little to remain engaging — a sad feat considering she appears in almost every song. In all truth, the story is just not compelling as it over-highlights the underdogs, those innocent youths who greatly desire to enter the realm of the rock gods. But we don’t want “the small town girl living in a lonely world”; we want the “cowboy on a steel horse” who’s “wanted dead or alive.” To “Rock of Ages’” credit, we do enjoy far more Stacee Jaxx than one would expect (thank Elvis), but it’s not enough for the actor who steals the show.
The real strength of “Rock of Ages” sadly isn’t the songs. By the third mesh-up, it’s pretty clear we’re in for who knows how many recognizable pop metal anthems that apparently use the same chords and flow over the top of each other all too well. If anything, it’s almost discouraging to note how little creativity exists in each regurgitated chord progression.
That said, using a cast of actors instead of singers does provide many splendid scenes. Brand, as Lonny, and Baldwin, as Dennis Dupree, have quite the chemistry, sharing several drinks, some witty banter and a hilarious duet. By far the best team-up award goes to Cruise, as rock legend Stacee Jaxx, and Malin Akerman, starring as a young Rolling Stone journalist, Constance Sack, who wants to see Stacee rediscover the music amidst a sea of drugs and groupies. The two provide one of the most unique sexually charged duets, which is anything but erotic.
Director Adam Shankman, who also directed the fantastic 2007 remake of “Hairspray”, had so much fun with those dancing numbers that it’s such a shame to find so little choreography here –– especially with leading star Hough, who keeps her feet on the ground save a rather underwhelming pole-dancing sequence. The opening song — people singing and walking around with an utter lack of energy — sets a poor precedence for the rest of the film. But eventually, this little-engine-that-could finds its rock star pace and (thank The Beatles) concludes with the proper encore any great show requires.