What happens when you take a Broadway musical, make it set in the late 1980s and give it a story that is more typically indicative of today’s high school melodramas than an otherwise legitimate narrative? Why, you get Rock of Ages, a musical written by Chris D’Arienzo and directed by Adam Shankman. But is this the next big step in creating a Hollywood musical, or is it merely a soon to be special I Loathe the 80s?
Our story focuses on Sherrie Christian, played by Julianne Hough, a beautiful young hopeful on her way from Tulsa to Los Angeles to try to make it big as a singer. Shortly after arriving, she is mugged and all of her belongings are taken. This leads to a young man coming to her aid in the form of Drew, played by Diego Boneta. He offers her a job as a bartender at the legendary Bourbon Room, which will feature the final performance of Arsenal, a stellar rock band with front man Stacee Jaxx, played by Tom Cruise.
This is arguably the best Tom Cruise performance of the last five years. Through his nonsensical ramblings and ridiculous behavior, his character does an amazing job of completely immersing himself in the scenery without chewing it to bits. You can see the different characters in Jaxx, such as Bret Michaels, Jon Bon Jovi, Axel Rose and Sebastian Bach in a perfect amalgamation to make for one completely entertaining character.
As for the rest of the cast, they are somewhat forgettable. Although both Drew and Sherrie do a good job at each of their respective characters, they just pale to their adult counterparts in the film, making them clichéd and, despite being the focal point of the movie, easily overlooked. This makes this both a blessing and a curse, as even though their characters are largely indistinguishable from any other character in a similar role, but it is also because everyone else does an amazing job of acting.
Catherine Zeta Jones does a perfect job as the bitter Christian Right doing what she can to overthrow the evil sex-laden rock and roll. Alec Baldwin does a wonderful job as the beleaguered bar owner desperate to make the last dollar so that he can save his beloved establishment. Moreover, Russell Brand will keep you in stitches as the comic relief.
The music of the film is simultaneously its strongest and weakest point. Fans of the music from the 1980s will appreciate its use in the film, but will mostly be disappointed by its delivery therein. People who want to see a good Broadway musical will likely be turned off by the silly numbers and the mesh up delivery of unrelated tracks; leaving both sides partially entertained but leaving them wanting something more.
The other primary weakness of the film is its lack of narrative. Instead of relying on dialogue and acting to convey a story and to give a deeper insight into the characters, they often rely on music. However, the difference between a traditional Broadway musical and this film is the choice of songs. In a more traditional musical, the songs that they use are written and performed so that they can move the story forward. Here, the songs are completely non-canon and otherwise irrelevant in moving things along, and serve almost as stopping points.
The original take on each song by itself is by no means done poorly, but rather their choice of song at the time can leave something to be desired. Although musical s are often indicative of an over-the-top and melodramatic, this takes it to new heights that simultaneously works and doesn’t. There are some amazing acting talents that comprise this film; however, they aren’t given the amount of time necessary to tell the story before leading into the next song. Most musicals use each number to advance the story; however, here they act virtually as stopping points or serving montages, making the audience painstakingly feel each of the film’s 123 minutes.
Fans of 80s music may enjoy the new takes on songs they’ve come to know and love, but would be better served to just put on the albums themselves.
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