Rock of Ages Review
Conclusive proof that karaoke can only be enjoyed while drunk off your ass.
I saw this train wreck last night and truly regretted it. This is another movie that is going to suffer deeply for my personal bias and dislike of the 80′s and hair bands. Sorry about that, and if you are a fan of the most culturally bleak decade of American history maybe take this review with a grain of salt.
1987 holds a special place in my heart. You see, that was the year I escaped the most desolate, horrible four years of my life, high school. However, that was basically a few days of feeling good as compared to 10 years of big hair hell. I can honestly say I am a fan of a lot of 80′s music. However, this movie seemed to specifically target exactly the music and bands I hated with a thermonuclear passion back then, and time has not softened my perception. Ballad bands like Journey, Guns n’ Roses, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Jefferson Starship, Night Ranger, Quarterflash, Europe, and Poison were to me the musical equivalent of the packing Styrofoam your stereo came in, and that was when it was done competently by the actual artists. When it’s done by some auto tune actor with a soulless studio band backing him or her up it just gets painful.
This movie seems to have a misconception as to what hard core rock and roll really is. The main “plot point” of this film has to do with a local Tipper Gore type protesting against the evils of rock music. However, having her protest against the evils of Night Ranger is like the local church group protesting the art theater for showing Gone with the Wind with the word “damn” not edited out. It just has no gravitas (Gone with the Wind image courtesy of the Movie T Shirt category). Also, having everyone in the movie talk about how hard core “rock n’ roll” they are only to break into an REO Speedwagon song is truly laughable.
This movie is like a birthday cake designed by a five year old. About 1/4 of an inch of actual cake topped with 5 inches of frosting. In this case the cake is the plot and the frosting all the musical numbers. Every bit of this film screams “self indulgent tripe”. The director Adam Shankman (Hairspray, a Walk to Remember, Bedtime Stories) obviously wishes he were directing music videos and therefore finds every tenuously flimsy excuse to stick another song and/or dance number in, usually as a mashup and usually about as pleasant as dropping a bowling ball into your lap. It’s literally like watching karaoke; well produced karaoke, but karaoke nevertheless.
Somehow, in spite of the move literally being 60% or more musical numbers, the plot seems weighty and ploddish. The run time is 123 minutes and you feel every one of them. The story is trite and cliche, the acting for the most part is stiff and dry, and the visuals make you wish you were watching autopsy videos. The movie seems to be a celebration of bad casting: Tom Cruise does not feel like a stoner rock god (sorry but every time I saw him I couldn’t help but think “There goes Jerry MacGuire with long hair), Catherine Zeta Jones does not feel like an uptight church lady, Alec Baldwin does not feel like a burned out creepy rock guy, and the two kids to not feel like human beings, much less rock and rollers. The only characters that felt right for their roles were Russell Brand as the sleazy British guy and Paul Giamatti as the sleazy agent, but that was more happy coincidence based on the fact that they both seem naturally sleazy in their own way.
All that being said, in spite of the poor casting a number of the stars actually do a really good job with the rolls they have all been handed. Tom Cruise inhabits his role as Stacey Jaxx and gives it a steller but one dimensional performance. Alec Baldwin does as well as he can with his club owner role. I am not a fan of Russell Brand (his natural greasiness, both physical and personality, feels a lot like the kind of toe jam you get after stepping in an open sewer and then walking for a few miles. Don’t ask me how I know about that) but he is well cast and he and Alec Baldwin have the best timing, chemistry, and repartee of the film. They certainly have more chemistry than the two straight love interest couples. However, I think the few good performances in the film are more a reflection of the talent of the individual performers rather than any inspiration lent to them by a qualified director.
I secretly don’t even want to go into the story. It centers around the world famous Whiskey a Go Go-sorry, the Bourbon Room-on the Fabulous Sunset Strip (incidentally, in my youth I have spent many a lost weekend at the Whiskey. I will say the movie more or less got the atmosphere of the club right, but the demographic of the bands and audience wrong. Think X more than White Snake) and the people who work and perform there. A young girl (Julianne Hough-Footloose, Burlesque) travels to Hollywood from Oklahoma to be a star. She gets mugged but then meets a pretty boy bar back from the Bourbon Room (Diego Boneta-90210, Pretty Little Liars, Mean Girls 2) who gets her a job there. Meanwhile the club is failing miserably unless the owner (Alec Baldwin-30 Rock, the Hunt for Red October, Words with Friends on a Plane) and manager (Russell Brand-Arthur, Get Him to the Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) can get some money together. They have a big gig with the famous Stacey Jaxx (Tom Cruise-Minority Report, Top Gun, Mission Impossible) that should help with their issues. Jaxx is being interviewed by a hot Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman-the Watchmen(Silk Specter 2), the Proposal, the Heartbreak Kid) whom he seduces in one of the stupider PG-13 sex scenes I have seen. Meanwhile the two kids fall in love, the guy starts his music career, and Paul Giamatti (Saving Private Ryan, the Illusionist, Cinderella Man) plays everyone’s sleazy agent.
The stars. Tom Cruise and a few others were entertaining, if extremely one dimensional. One star. There was some tongue-in-cheek humor poking fun at the now defunct music industry (at this point it’s about as relevant as making jokes about Prohibition laws, but whatever) that was decently funny. One star. There wasn’t a girl in this movie who wasn’t super young and hot. One star. I thought the Russell Brand/Alec Baldwin interaction was actually really good, and wouldn’t mind seeing them in a buddy film. One star. Total: four stars.
The black holes. Oh god the never ending musical numbers. It was like being trapped in the elevator to Hell. Two black holes. The story was stunted and underdeveloped yet at the same time weighty and domineering. I still don’t know how they did that. It was like swallowing the worlds largest plantain whole. Two black holes. With the exception of Tom Cruize and a few others I mentioned, a lot of the acting was mediocre. One black hole. A movie about rock n’ roll that features PG-13 sex, no drugs, and actually very little in the way of rock n’ roll. Whitesnake =/= hard core rock. One black hole. The pacing dragged on so long this movie should be visible from space. One black hole. The use of cover music, mediocre dance routines, and minimal story elements linking them together made this film feel like I was watching 123 minutes of Scion and tampon commercials. One black hole. While I know the choices of music used in this film is subjective and others out there might actually have an appreciation of Quarterflash, I would like to point out that two of the songs they chose (We Built This City and the Final Countdown) were voted as the #1 and 2 worst songs of the 80′s in a readers poll in Rolling Stone. Two black holes. There was a mashup at the end featuring Russel Brand and Catherine Zeta-Jones that I am going to give a bonus black hole to for being particularly excruciating. One black hole. A strip club without nudity (PG-13 a go go). One black hole. Total: 12 black holes.
A grand total of 8 black holes. About as bad as I expected, although I honestly expected to hate Tom Cruise’s character a lot more. It was surprising. Is there anything in here worth seeing? Maybe, if you are a huge Glee fan and want to see a worse version of it. Or perhaps you think the one thing missing from your life is a Twisted Sister/Jefferson Starship mashup. If you think you should go because you are a Cruise or Baldwin fan save yourself the pain. You will actually lose respect for your favorite actor if you see this. Date movie? Perhaps for the right girl, but honestly the girl that enjoys this probably has a collection of human skins in the tool shed out back. Bathroom break? Pretty much anywhere, and if you are like me after the first 10 minutes you will be almost overwhelmed by the desire to relieve yourself all over the theater floor or perhaps the film projector, but if I had to isolate a particularly worthless moment I would say any of the scenes involving the mayor of Los Angeles (sorry Bryan Cranston. I love you in Breaking Bad but this film is not your ticket out of television).
Another long review. Thanks for reading. Please, if you haven’t by the time you get to the end here go back to the top of this review and vote for my business for the grant. I really appreciate it. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you have a comment about this movie or review feel free to leave it here. Any off topic comments or suggestions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. More movies coming soon. I might even bite the bullet (as it passes into my brainpan) and see That’s My Boy. Talk to you soon.