Click on image to view trailer
Director: Adam Shankman
Writers: Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, and Allan Loeb
Stars: Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Diego Boneta, Julianne Hough, Mary J. Blige, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Bryan Cranston, and Paul Giamatti
Rock of Ages is a popcorn movie that will be most appreciated by people who grew-up in the 80s. The main stories revolve around the Bourbon, a legendary rock bar/stage under financial strain. The Bourbon is owned & managed by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) with the aid of his assistant Lonny (Russell Brand). As conservative mothers under the leadership of Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) protest outside, Dennis & Lonny are pinning their financial hopes on the final performance of mega-group Arsenal with the unreliable and out-of-control lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). Into this world enters Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough)–fresh off the bus from Oklahoma, recently robbed of all her possessions, having aspirations of becoming a singer, and being aided by Drew Boley (Diego Boneta). Diego is a bartender at The Bourbon, lead singer of his band of other Bourbon employees, and dreams to make it big.
Under the oily management of Paul Gil (Paul Giamatti), Jaxx makes it to The Bourbon. Before Arsenal‘s final performance Jaxx gives an interview and has a fling with Rolling Stone reporter Constance Stack (Malin Akerman); is believed by Drew to have had a fling with Sherrie; and gets completely obliterated with whiskey all night long. After the performance The Bourbon’s finances are worse for wear, Sherri’s and Drew’s relationship is torn apart, and everyone’s lives spin out of control.
Rock of Ages definitely shows its Broadway roots. Whereas it is common for large plot developments to occur between scenes and musical numbers in Broadway shows, the same effect in a movie is a little more jarring. Also, the movie falls into a two act structure and you can tell where the intermission would be at a live show–everyone at their lowest and all alone in their story.
As for the story(ies), there is a lot going on and many characters to keep track of. If the overall theme had been trimmed to only deal with those stories directly involving The Bourbon, what is a good popcorn movie could have been a great one. Bryan Cranston is wasted as Mayor Whitmore–Patricia’s husband–and could have been removed from the film all together. The same could be said for Mary J. Blige as Justice Charlier, the owner of the local strip joint.
Where the movie succeeds are with all the performances, and all the actors enthusiasm for their roles. Alec Baldwin & Russell Brand work well together as an 80s rock version of Laurel & Hardy; their duets together are hilarious. Catherine Zeta-Jones is fierce as the conservative wife with a not-so-wholesome past. Paul Giamatti makes Machiavelli look like an altar boy in comparison to his artist manager. In this company both Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough come across as only competent. But this show belongs to Tom Cruise. Cruise is both a genuine movie star and a great actor; the camera loves him and he delivers. From the first time you meet him as Stacee Jaxx and in all other subsequent scenes Cruise commands the screen, and all the other performers around him. You believe he is a rock-god. And wherever Stacee Jaxx goes Hey-Man (Mickey the Monkey) follows. Put simply, the Academy should create an Oscar for best performance by an animal because he deserves it.
Though it won’t change your life and you will probably forget what happened throughout the movie, Rock of Ages will leave you with a smile on its face. With its powerhouse big-hair rock songs, great acting, and scene stealing simians, you will sing, laugh, and have a good time.
Grade = B
PS The majority of the movie was filmed in Miami. The exterior shots of The Bourbon and surrounding streets were filmed just outside downtown Miami. The scenes in the stripper-joint were at the old Playboy Club on Miami Beach. Mt. Trashmore–a local municipal dump covered with grass–was dressed as the backside of the Hollywood sign.
PPS At the advanced screening I went to there were two showings at the same time. One with a red carpet and Adam Shankman & Julianne Hough, and the other with me. The second screening was a great time though. Shankman did stop by for a few words, and most of the audience was made-up of extras that appeared in the movie and where dressed-up for the 80s.