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Rock of Ages (Tom Cruise) - Film review

Rock of Ages

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

THE movie version of Rock of Ages plays like a mix tape of good and bad songs. On occasion, it rocks, at others it sucks.

Adapted from the hit Broadway show by Justin Theroux and Chris D’Arienzo and directed by Adam Shankman with the same OTT exuberance he brought to Hairspray a few years back, the film is a messy affair that only really works in fits and starts despite the best efforts of its game cast.

The main problem stems from the decision to focus the film around two young innocents, small town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and city boy Drew (Diego Boneta), who meet on the Sunset Strip in the late ‘80s while pursuing their Hollywood dreams and subsequently fall in love.

Their story is just too ‘sweet’ and predictable to be interesting, while neither Hough nor Boneta possess the required charisma to raise their characters above the bland. Indeed, whenever they’re on-screen, the film sags.

Far better is Tom Cruise’s ragged rocker Stacee Jaxx, whose world-weary, drugged out performance lends the film its main reason for seeing it. The actor is clearly having a blast channelling his inner rock God, whether unleashing hell on-stage and writhing about furiously or existing in his own ‘heightened’ state of consciousness at all other times.

But even then, Shankman’s film misses an opportunity, hinting at a darker side of the industry (and Cruise’s own character) that the film never takes the time to explore. Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous captured the whole agony and ecstasy of the rock and roll world in far more satisfying fashion.

Elsewhere, the problems continue to abound. Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin, as Lonny and Dennis, the two proprietors of The Bourbon Room, the LA club at the centre of proceedings, only occasionally spark given that the material they have to work with isn’t quite funny enough. Brand, meanwhile, drifts in and out of his dodgy Liverpool accent and seems happiest when playing to his own real-life persona.

Mary J Blige’s strip-club owner has virtually no story to call her own, while a sub-plot involving Bryan Cranston and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a politician husband and wife team determined to bring an end to the sleaze on the Sunset Strip never really gets going.

But then Shankman seems most content to populate the movie with song and dance numbers rather than really exploring some of the potential themes and, to be fair, delivers the goods during these times, inviting his audience to sing along and celebrate ‘80s rock in the process.

The songs fly thick and fast and take in Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Whitesnake, and more. You can well imagine a future lined with sing-along screenings, just as past hits like Mamma Mia: The Musical and The Rocky Horror Picture Show have managed in the past.

Hence, if all you’re seeking is a good time in the style of those aforementioned movies, with the bulk of the laughs coming from seeing the likes of Cruise, Paul Giamatti and Catherine Zeta-Jones bursting into song or donning all manner of outrageous outfits and hairdos, then Rock of Ages will tick all the right boxes for you.

Ironically, Burlesque did the whole song and dance routine much better, marrying its self-consciously cheesy values to a decent storyline in more convincing fashion. But it perhaps lacked the star wattage to really ignite at the box office.

Rock of Ages, for all its energy and vigour, is a frequently disjointed affair that sometimes feels like it goes on and on and on too long. It’s worth seeing for Cruise, and just about hangs together by virtue of its well-known songs, but it’s a deeply flawed, even lazy film at the best of times.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 123mins
UK Release Date: June 13, 2012