Saturday, June 16, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: "Rock of Ages"

Rock of Ages

Being a bit of an arena rock
aficionado, I ventured out with
my tweenage movie compadre to
attend the opening day matinee
showing of this much-talked-
about epic. My expectations
were further heightened as the
ticket taker encouraged me to
enjoy the show and to have
"nothing but a good time."

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. 

But 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.

Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, a "fictional"
rock star who just happens to wear a
fur coat, cowboy hat and bandanna.
Teetering somewhere between a Selena Gomez-style 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.

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 Def Leppard, Poison and Aerosmith. 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.

This is not a still from the latest
chart-busting country music video.
It's Hough as Sherrie Christian.
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 an 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.

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.

No, this isn't a member of N'Sync.
This is Drew, the Rock of Ages 
version of an aspiring '80s rock dude.
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.

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.

Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx "explaining" a
few things to his unscrupulous manager,
Paul Gill, played by Paul Giamatti.
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. SO sad, but SO true.

It was fun to see such mighty and iconic LA landmarks as the recreated Tower Records, the re- vamped 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 RothGuns N' RosesTwisted Sister and Quiet Riot, 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)

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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.