Movie Review: Rock of Ages

I freaking love 80s rock music. Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Foreigner, Iron Maiden, Journey, Poison, Guns N Roses, Meat Loaf, Twisted Sister- all that stuff  is just awesome. I’ve long held the view that I was born about 20 years too late, and would’ve been more suited to having been born in the mid-late 60s, meaning I’d have been the right age for Star Wars when it was released and a teenager during the mullet and leather jacket 80s.

So, I was super stoked to see Rock of Ages an entire musical built around 80s rock anthems, which has been described as a kind of male version of Mamma Mia!, which I’ve yet to see, mainly because I fear I would actually like it and thus lose even more man points.

The movie starts in 1987 off with a small town girl, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) who arrives in LA to pursue her dream of being a singer. However, shortly after arriving she is mugged, with all her records stolen. The incident is seen by Drew (Diego Boneta) who goes to her aid, and gets her a job working with him at the legendary rock venue the Bourbon Room. The two bond over a mutual love of music and desire to be singer and soon fall for each other.

The Bourbon is in financial trouble but the owner, Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and his right hand man, Lonny (Russell Brand) are hoping their fortunes will change due to the fact that the successful band Arsenal are due to play their last gig there.

The gig has been set up by the band’s unscrupulous manager, Paul (Paul Giamatti) and will be the last gig of the group as the drug addled, troubled singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) is due to go solo. Stacee is a mess, and before the gig is interviewed by a reporter, Constance (Malin Akerman), who hits close to home and whom he seems genuinely attracted to, the two coming close to having sex before the moment is ruined.

Meanwhile, the Bourbon is also under pressure from various parents and religious groups, spearheaded by the mayor’s wife Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta Jones) who seems to have an obsessive vendetta against the club and Stacee in particular.

The opening act falls through and Drew and his band, Wolfgang Von Colt, step up and perform to a rapturous response, however, misreading a situation between Sherrie and Stacee and believing them to have had sex, a heartbroken Drew argues with Sherrie and they go their separate ways.

Sherrie quits and winds up working at a strip club having been taken in by the club’s manager, Justice (Mary J Blige). Drew signs with Paul, who has stiffed Dennis out of his money and left the club on the verge of closure.

With rock viewed as dead by the execs they meet, Paul puts Drew into a boyband, and sets up a gig at the Bourbon, convincing Dennis that it will also be the first solo Stacee gig. Drew runs into Sherrie and both are embarrassed by the changes in themselves, and Sherrie confesses she is considering going home and abandoning her dream.

Drew goes to the record store where he first asked Sherrie out, and in the 2nd hand section finds all of Sherrie’s records which were stolen when she was mugged. He buys them all and sends them to her.

Stacee reads the article Constance wrote and discovers that Paul has conned Dennis, and fires his manager before setting off to the Bourbon to play the gig and find Constance.

Can Drew and Sherrie sort out their issues, or will she leave LA, leaving him as a pop puppet? Will Stacee save the Bourbon and get it on with Constance? Why does Patricia hate Stacee? I’m sure you can all guess the answers to that, and probably predict that after the boyband tank at the club Drew returns to rock and himself to wow the crowd.

The plot is candy-floss light and really just there to segue from one rock anthem to the next, but the film does have a lot of charm. The musical numbers are all done really well, with some great choreography and editing really bringing them to life and some clever mash ups of songs working out really well.

I was surprised by just how well some of the tracks fitted into the story, particularly Foreigner’s phenomenal “I Want To Know What Love Is” and the Bon Jovi classic “Wanted Dead or Alive”. It also really fits that the sweet love song Drew writes about Sherrie and which makes his name would be the utterly brilliant, “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey. Yes, I realise thanks to Glee the track has been overexposed but forget all that and view it for what it is- a wonderfully feel good, catchy slice of power ballad genius.

Yes, there are times when its extremely cheesy, and you can tell autotune has been used quite a bit, but for the most part I felt the movie really worked. I think the thing with this kind of movie is that early on you’ve just got to make the decision to go with it and completely disable the cynical, intellectual side of your brain.

The central romance between Drew and Sherrie is the best example of this at work. Yes, its predictable, cliched and ever-so-stiltony, but it did sort of work, mainly due to the fact that both Boneta and Hough have a kind of sweet, naive charm that they bring to the roles and their scenes together are quite endearing. Neither actor was known to me before this, but they do well with the fairly simplistic characters they’re given.

Sherrie (Hough) and Drew (Boneta)- Quite endearing

But, their partnership is overshadowed by the great work of Baldwin and Brand, who for reasons I don’t understand, does the film with a shaky Brummie accent. Baldwin and Brand are both extremely gifted comic performers and they get most of the film’s big laughs, particularly an oddly sweet duet of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” where they declare from their love for one another had me in stitches, while still being oddly romantic. I may never be able to hear that song again in the same way. This subplot was one of the few times that the film genuinely surprised me.

Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand- Stealing the show and forever changing my view of an REO Speedwagon song.

The rest of the cast all do very well, Giamatti can do scummy with the best of them and Catherine Zeta Jones as the driven and bitchy Patricia is on fine form, CZJ does this kind of role very well and of all the cast seems to be having the most fun when she belts out Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”. Also, as the reporter Malin Akerman gives a good performance as a woman exasperated by Stacee Jaxx’s decline and who struggles to maintain her proper, respectable front when she is confronted with Stacee’s wildness and sexual magnetism.

And that brings us to Tom Cruise, who is undoubtedly the star of the show. Cruise is as charismatic as ever playing the swaggering rock god, leaving fainting women in his wake. He plays the booze-soaked madness very well, retaining this kind of damaged, broken charm underneath all the bluster and posturing. Jaxx is a complete disaster of a man, but still roguishly engaging and likable, slowly waking up to how he’s been exploited and controlled by the music business. Also, when he gets on stage he’s clearly having a ball, throwing himself around the stage like a proper rocker and clearly having done his homework on rock star mannerisms.

Tom Cruise rocking out as Stacee Jaxx.

The one piece of miscasting in the movie in my opinion is Mary J Blige as the strip club owner. Don’t get me wrong, she’s not bad in the role in fact the problem is that she’s far too good a singer, and when Blige’s powerful vocals kick in it makes everyone else’s performances look a little bit bland, and unbalances it a bit.

Mary J Blige- too good.

All in all I really did enjoy the movie, its gleefully stupid fun and you get the impression that much of the cast are enjoying themselves too. The soundtrack is fantastic full of air guitaring, fist clenching power ballad classics that have an immense charm and singalong quality, thankfully I managed to resist the urge to belt out the tunes in the cinema.

The songs are its biggest asset, but that’s true of quite a lot of musicals, but its helped by a light but charming plot and some fun performances from a talented cast.

Verdict: No holds barred, guilty pleasure fun. Fuelled by some classic rock tracks and helped along by some great comedy moments, especially from Baldwin and Brand, the film is a real joy. It won’t change your life, but it will put a big dumb grin on your face. Also, Tom Cruise is brilliant. 7/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 

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