Saturday, June 16, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: "Rock of Ages"

Directed by Adam Shankman, the film version 
of  the wildly popular '80s-theme Broadway
musical,  Rock of Ages, finally has made it to 
the big screen.  And being something of an
arena rock aficionado, I ventured out with my
tweenage movie compadre to attend the opening 
day matinee. I was psyched to see this much-
talked-about epic  and my expectations were
further heightened as the theater's ticket
taker encouraged me to enjoy the show and
to have "nothing but a good time."
Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx,
a "fictitious" rock star who just
happens to wear a fur coat,
cowboy hat and bandanna.
Despite the hype, stellar all-star cast, mega budget and fist-pumping soundtrack, Rock of Ages is (at best) just plain silly. In fact, it's now official -- The Curly Shuffle no longer is the all-time most ridiculous '80s-related offering. And if haters, nay-sayers, pundits and poo-pooers ever needed  additional evidence to make a case against the music and style of our beloved decade, well, they've got plenty now.

Teetering somewhere between a Selena Gomez-type sitcom and a (really) bad soft core porno flick, this 'PG-13' rated saga of boy-meets-girl and  passion-filled teenage dreams set against  a backdrop of the '80s rock scene, should have been rated 'R.' The graphic one-liners,  double  entendre  references and gratuitous fetish scenes just aren't appropriate for little Johnnies and Sallies -- especially my young friend -- a rather astute  girl  who summed up the entire movie by announcing afterward that, "Most parts were a lot of music and fun. But other parts were a lot of gay." Hmm, insightful.

This is not a still from the lastest
chart-busting country music video.
It's Julianne Hough as Sherrie Christian.
Like straight out of Poison's 1988 "Fallen Angel" video, Rock of Ages opens with female lead, Sherrie Christian, played by Julianne Hough traveling from middle-America in pursuit of fame and fortune on LA's legendary Sunset Strip. As she sits on the bus thumbing through her  cherished  record collection contained in her carry-on bag, we get a glimpse at her goods -- vinyl LPs by Aerosmith, Poison and Def Leppard. But  then  the  vibe  quickly spirals downward as bus passengers of all ages join in for a Glee-style group sing-a-long of Night Ranger's "Sister Christian." A classic now has forever been tarnished.

Upon arriving in LA, Sherrie soon meets her love interest, Drew Boley played by Diego Boneta, whose '80s swagger is about as authentic as Justin Bieber's. Even less believable is Drew's band, Wolfgang Von Colt. Donned with fro-like mullets and wearing dirty, torn denim (onstage), WVC wouldn't have gotten an audition on The Strip in '87, let alone a major opening act break at a top-name venue like the film's fictitious Bourbon Room.  But Drew isn't the only character who looks out of place in Rock of Ages. In fact, with all of the bad wigs and non-era-specific wardrobe, I never felt as if I was watching a story based in the '80s.

No, this isn't a member of N'Sync.
This is Drew, the Rock of Ages
version of an aspiring '80s rock dude.
And of course like any modern-day Hollywood blockbuster that's worth it's weight in celluloid, Rock of Ages goes the distance to portray ALL conservative-types as bad guys -- mean-spirited religious wackos  with secret fetishes and chequered pasts (i.e. LA mayor Mike Whitmore, played by Bryan Cranston and his anti-rock crusading Tipper Gore-like wife Patricia, played by the steamy Catherine Zeta-Jones). And the open-mouthed onscreen kiss between  bar manager Lonny Barnett, played by Russell Brand and bar owner Dennis Dupree, played by Alec Baldwin  was just awkward and creepy -- regardless of one's sexual comfort zone. In fact, I believe that it was at that point when my young friend commented to me, "This isn't garbage, it's gay-bage." Out of the mouths of babes.

I had become slightly less enthusiastic about seeing Rock of Ages upon hearing that Tom Cruise had been cast in the primary role of Stacee Jaxx, a delusional, egomaniacal, lunatic frontman rock star. While I realize that Cruise is a true Hollywood icon and that his talent is immeasurable, I had my doubts regarding how effective he'd be in portraying  Bret Michaels, uh, I mean Stacee Jaxx. But surprisingly, he was quite convincing. Actually, I found Cruise's performance to be BRILLIANT -- certainly one of the film's three acting highlights.

Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx "explaining"
a few things to his unscrupulous manager
Paul Gill, played by Paul Giamatti.
I also must offer kudos to Paul Giamatti for his spot-on performance as Stacee's  seedy manager, Paul Gill. The toaster-size  cell phone and  Rubik's Cube truly brought his character into the era.  Oddly, I had a manager during my '80s rock days who looked and acted exactly like Gill. Hence, I totally could relate to the backstage dialogue between Gill and Drew regarding fame.

But the definitive award for "Best  Performance" goes to the baboon that played the role of Stacee's personal assistant, Hey Man. As someone who has worked as an assistant to rock stars, I must confess that frequently I've been referred to as a "baboon." However, this baboon is exactly the type required to pull off such a gig adequately.

R&B siren Mary J. Blige also does a fabulous job as "showgirl" club owner  Justice Charlier and Malin Åkerman is quite believable in the role of Rolling Stone magazine reporter Constance Sack. Props also to REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin and Skid Row's Sebastian Bach for delivering passionate cameos as angry rockers on The Strip, defending their right to rock!

Even in the context of an '80s revival musical,
these two characters were simply ridiculous. 
Despite  some weak links and  its general dopiness,  Rock of Ages  does get it right in several areas and even offers a few profound messages. One of which is that no matter how washed up, self-absorbed and addicted the rock star,  or how vehemently the subjects (chicks)  deny  their interest, the guy onstage ALWAYS will prevail (i.e. He'll nail the chick every time). I've personally observed numerous real life scenarios depicted in Rock of Ages. Simply put, in the backstage world of rock and roll, ALL moral boundaries become erased. It's sad, even pathetic, but SO true. 

It was fun to see such mighty and iconic LA landmarks as the recreated Tower Records,  the revamped Whisky a Go Go (Bourbon Room) and the legendary rock star hangout, The Chateau Marmont projecting from the glorious silver screen throughout the film.

FYI -- This is what an authentically awesome
'80s rock band is supposed to look like!
Be sure that the true star of Rock of Ages is the timeless music. And although many of the arena anthems and power ballads featured in the movie are castrated, soulless, watered down American Idol-like recreations, it was still fun to hear David Lee Roth,  Guns N' Roses, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister and Scorpions classics pumping through a massive in-theater sound system.

In sum, Rock of Ages is a colorful and high-energy  romp in which  true love prevailed and all of the pretty people danced, sang, rocked -- and lived, happily ever after. And I guess it was an okay flick, if you possess the sense of humor necessary to watch as your cherished past is poked at for two (long) hours -- just leave the kids at home. But would I pay to see it again? Possibly, if for no other reason than I just LOVED that baboon!

-Christopher Long
(June 2012)

Author Christopher Long's latest book,
is available NOW on Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. I am not a huge fan of 80's music, but I can easily say that this flick had me tapping my toes and singing along to just about every jam. The story itself was weak, but whenever they focused on the music and Tom Cruise, the film won me over. Nice review Chris.