Rock of Ages is the film adaptation of the successful Broadway/West End musical of the same name. The second musical from director Adam Shankman who previously adapted the Hairspray stage show, dabbled in a couple of Glee episodes and led some seriously questionable comedies. Set in 1987 L.A, we follow two young dreamers trying to make their way in the big city. With hopes of love and rock stardom they fall in love in the famed Bourbon Room but face obstacles and learn harsh lessons along the way. Yes Rock of Ages is that simple, that cheesy and while definitely spun out for the wide-eyed masses might still manage to raise the odd smirk from the uninitiated and sceptical.
The songs featured will naturally have some effect on a viewer’s overall level of enjoyment or torture, most of the bands involved aren’t exactly the most credible or least covered, all being eighties power ballads and upbeat hair metal, therefore it’s hard to decipher how many of the tunes were murdered exactly, with Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ practically defining the TV show Glee, Poison’s ‘Every Rose Has Its’ Thorn’ being previously covered by Miley Cyrus and Lord knows how many versions of Gun’s And Roses hits strangled out over the years on X-Factor. As with the performances, the songs and general approach to ‘’Rock’’ there is a day-glow Disney sheen covering everything. This works on one level keeping a lid on any earnestness and severing ties with any logic but on the other hand there is a frustrating lack of anything resembling edge, musical or not (see Rocky Horror, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the original Hairspray, Grease) when rock and comedy are at the centre there should be some bite. The only real attempt to shake things up is via some clinical sexuality that doesn’t even rival Chicago in raunchiness.
The performances are likely to be the most divisive depending heavily on personal tolerance, namely the young doe eyed leads, who appear to have stepped straight off the Disney Channel and onto probably the most daring thing they will ever do in their careers. Not to be cruel, again this is a musical and a 12A but Hough and Boneta will grate on a lot of people, thankfully their moments although sickly sweet and borderline preppy are at least played for laughs mostly throughout, they are there to be rooted for by people of a certain disposition (newly pubescent or who regularly watches Dirty Dancing I imagine). Then there is Tom Cruise, it’s undeniable that he is throwing himself into this part head first, actually providing vocals and bulking up to become the swaggering rock God/idiot/ego that is Stacee Jaxx, to the extent that every time he appears on screen (consistently shirtless) your head instantly finds it amusing and baffling that it’s actually Cruise. Frankly if you don’t enjoy him in this role you’ll likely still be somewhat mesmerised by his presence, it’s strangely similar to his hypnotic performance in Magnolia. Speaking of strange, thanks to most of the cast Rock of Ages proves quite a surreal experience, Alec Baldwin, who doesn’t come across as having as much fun as everyone else, is still humorous just by being there, Russell Brand manages to embody his role whole heartedly as he is once again playing himself, but this time he manages to mesh with the general tone sparing himself sticking out like a very sore thumb and sparing the audience from being too annoying. Paul Giamatti is reliable as less a loser and more a sleaze for a sort of departure, Malin Ackerman is a pair of legs, Bryan Cranston is underused to the detriment of everything and Catherine Zeta-Jones doesn’t so much chew the scenery as gnaw the faces off the people she shares scenes with, I’ll give her this she has energy and would be perfect for high-end panto.
All in all aside from the always annoying inclusion of a monkey for hysterics the cast is largely inoffensive and often quite likeable.
Rock of Ages is certainly not as bad to sit through as one might assume but it does have its odd moments of cringe; usually involving Brand’s accent, Giamatti’s few lines of song, the sheer abundance of Tom Cruise flesh, but most notably the two young High School Musical channelling leads. It would help by being condensed as it does feel like a slog if you’re not completely able to shut off and be swept away with the garish nostalgia and Disneyed down rock anthems. Rock of Ages is a lark though by no means a film that will convert musical-phobes, also beware if the mere thought of Tom Cruise’s sweaty torso sets you on edge.