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Rock of Ages rocks on and on and on

Rock of Ages - Theater Review
Release Date: 6/15/2012 - MPAA Rating: PG-13
Clacker Rating: 5 Clacks

'Rock of Ages' starts rocking out in the first seconds of the film, and doesn't let off until after the credits roll.

Rock of Ages, more than any musical I’ve seen, dares its audience not to get up and jump around to the music. The film, based on a stage musical by the same name, brings together an all-star cast to deliver a love letter to the 1980s. You don’t need to be a child of that particular decade to join in on the fun — who doesn’t love a good “Zack Morris Phone” visual reference — but screenwriter Justin Theroux and director Adam Shankman have certainly created a film tailored to fans of the 80s.

The story follows Sherie (Julianne Hough), the proverbial small town girl who leaves Tulsa behind with dreams of making it big in Hollywood. When her journey to LA begins on the wrong foot, Drew (Diego Boneta) sweeps in to save the day, helping her get a job waitressing at the legendary Bourbon Room. Drew is able to talk her bosses Dennis and Lonny (played hilariously by Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand), despite Dennis’ rule against “hiring singers.” The Bourbon has come under fire from LA’s mayor and first lady, Mike and Patricia Whitmore (Bryan Cranston and Catherine Zeta-Jones), but the club is relying on rock legend Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) and his manager Paul (Paul Giamatti) to pull them out of their jam.

Tom Cruise is incredible in his role as a rocker teetering on the edge of oblivion. He plays the part way, way, way over the top, but he absolutely lands his performance. It was easy to look at Jaxx and see shades of Tommy Lee, Axl Rose and the lead singers of a half dozen other rock bands. His character may have not been the film’s lead, but the rest of the characters just seem to be in his orbit when Jaxx is onscreen. I’m not sure that this is the type of role that could garner awards talk, but the level of commitment that he had to playing the character is on the same level with anything I’ve ever seen from Cruise. The rest of the cast was solid as well, particularly Hough — who has had quite a year — and the Brand/Baldwin pairing.

Besides Cruise, the real star of the film is the soundtrack. Children of the 80s are going to feel right at home with just about every song that works its way into the mix — the one exception is a song that the audience isn’t supposed to like. There are also several instances where the music is used to set up great jokes — one Journey joke is obvious, but bonus points if you catch the second (music only) one. More surprising was how great the vocals were across the board. Sure, folks like Hough, Boneta, Mary J. Blige, and Zeta-Jones were specifically cast for their musical talents, and I had some serious reservations about Tom Cruise, but he did hold his own. He won’t be taking home any Grammys any time soon, but he definitely didn’t embarrass himself.

Looking at the cast, and the fact that Theroux also penned Tropic Thunder, it shouldn’t be a surprise exactly how funny the movie was — but I’d be lying if I said I walked in expecting to laugh as much as I did. Cruise isn’t the only actor who lives in the “over the top zone,” as Brand has spent his entire career there. This is one of those rare occasions however, where it worked, and didn’t get in the way of everything else on the screen. While some of his and Baldwin’s dialogue in the first act are the definition of ham-handed exposition, their take on the characters make the scenes work quite well.

As I mentioned, fans of all things 80s related will be wrapped in the warm embrace of the film. From the music to the fashion to the hair, the film was soaked in the decade. The setting of the time actually helped define several of the smaller stories that permeated the plot: the aging of the genre from the artists to the fans and the evolution to whatever popular music was to become in the 90s. Eagle-eyed viewers will catch a great many cameos; I caught less than I missed.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see the stage show. There were several people commenting on how different the film was from the source material. For fans of the original, I can’t really comment with any authority, but I think that the film comes off well — and doesn’t look that different compared to a quick Wikipedia search. The age old question of adaptation accuracy can always irritate original fans, but I think that the film version of Rock of Ages is worth rocking out to.


Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

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