Rock of Ages
Posted June 12, 2012 by Daniel Hodgson in
Rock of Ages is little more than karaoke, doing its best to imitate something original and classic, but without being either one itself.
Sherrie (Julianne Hough) gets off the bus from Tulsa, Oklahoma, looking to make her start as a singer in Hollywood. She’s mugged within a minute. Soon after, she meets Drew (Diego Boneta), a fellow aspiring musician, who offers to hook her up with a waitress gig at The Bourbon Room, a run-down bar and music venue run by aging rock lover Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin). But the Bourbon Room is under fire from Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the mayor’s wife, who wants to curtail Rock ‘N Roll’s influence on America’s youth. Dupree’s only hope to keep his establishment afloat is Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), a crazed god of rock who can pack a full house, managed by Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti), “a man so oily, Exxon should consider taking stock in him.”
Of course, that makes it sound like Rock of Ages has more plot than it really does. The story lacks focus, unsure of who or what it is about. Mrs. Whitmore organizes protesters from the religious community, but her efforts end there, and she is not the cause of what could be The Bourbon Room’s undoing. Sherrie and Drew want to be rock stars, but the only thing in their way is a lack of opportunity, and their romance is threatened by a contrived misunderstanding—not that we’re at all invested in the romance of these paper thin characters, or in their careers for that matter. Dupree is a passenger, waiting for the rock god to solve his financial woes—a musical take on deus ex. In short, the story is a whole lot of people doing nothing.
Performance-wise, Giamatti is wasted in his thinly written role (and most of the roles are that) as the sleazy manager, and he just doesn’t have enough to do. Cruise, however, commits himself to Jaxx, with a drunken swagger, slurred, lazy speech, and altogether looking as if he’s mentally on another planet. Cruise is clearly having fun with his public image, which in all honestly has liberated him. The tattoo work on Cruise is great—bat wings on his back, guns on pelvis as if tucked into his belt—and is sure to inspire some ink on the film’s fans.
All of that said, no one is going to see Rock of Ages for story and characters; it’s less about context, and more about content. It’s all about the music, man, and Rock of Ages features several classics covered by Cruise and Hough, who’s been doing a round of music films lately, namely Burlesque and the Footloose remake. But Rock of Ages is more music video than musical, as the editing wants to get in on the act, though it’s not quite as aggressively cutty as Battlefield America and the like. The dancing itself is often mere gesticulations of song lyrics; “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” has Zeta-Jones jabbing in the air, while her husband (Bryan Cranston) gets spanked by his mistress not far away. Rock of Ages is literal minded if nothing else. Color me unimpressed by all that. Backgrounds are dark, and there is spotlighting work, reminiscent of the film’s stage musical roots.
Rock of Ages tries to make a statement about how the corporate machine killed rock ‘n roll—big talk from a slick Hollywood production featuring Tom Cruise and a soundtrack tie-in. Hough and Boneta have that wholesome, clean-cut look that speak less of rock, and more American Idol. There’s little to nothing in original songs, and though the story is not the film’s draw, it doesn’t have to be so quite so half-assed and cliched in its self-aware way. The film is creatively bankrupt. Though not nearly as awful as From Justin to Kelly, it lacks an individual, artistic stamp of something more like Pink Floyd’s The Wall. There was no reason to make this movie, it has no heart—nothing to say that it really means. Rock of Ages is little more than karaoke, doing its best to imitate something original and classic, but without being either one itself.