Rock of Ages
‘80s Hair Band Fiesta
Broadway Musical Adaptation Leaves a Wet Spot
By Cole Smithey
Based on Chris D’Arienzo’s campy Broadway musical, “Rock of Ages” is a gaudy, spirited exhumation of music that many would prefer to forget ever existed. Famously described by Elvis Costello as the “decade that music forgot,” this version of the '80s are distilled into a collection of hard rock anthems by the likes of Bon Jovi, Foreigner, Journey, Twisted Sister, and Poison. Even within the realm of hair metal, tastes differ. D’Arienzo could have at least included a song or two from Hanoi Rocks or The Lords of the New Church for their accredited punk glam appeal.
A Sunset Strip-based musical—circa 1987—constructed around songs like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “Any Way You Want It” isn’t a recipe for a great story. The movie version is left to inject a clumsy narrative with some much-needed kitsch via a litany of stunt casting choices. Contributing screenwriters Justin Theroux and Allan Loeb seem to have polished up the source material with a dose of witty throwaway lines in an attempt to juice up the humor.
Nonetheless, the overlong movie frequently stalls in mid-song as during Mary J. Blige’s set piece, which suffers the misfortune of arriving just when the movie should be wrapping up.
Most of the action is contained in a raucous Sunset Strip bar called The Bourbon Room (clearly modeled on LA’s Whiskey a Go Go). A less-paunchy-than-usual Alec Baldwin plays aging hippie club owner Dennis Dupree with a goofy twinkle in his eye. Baldwin earns some well-deserved chuckles during comical character-revealing scenes played opposite bar manager Lonny (exquisitely played by the suitably cast Russell Brand). Dennis and Lonny share a special secret. Paul Giamatti does a deft turn as Paul Gill, the slimy music biz manager to Tom Cruise’s slothful heavy metal rock-god Stacee Jaxx. Cruise is easily ten years too old for the part. You can see his once youthful looks cracking around the edges of his face as he goes defiantly over the hill right before your eyes.
Catherine Zeta-Jones turns up the heat in her fired-up role as Patricia Whitmore, a Bible-thumping wife to LA’s newly elected mayor (played by an underused Bryan Cranston). Patricia has personal reasons for wanting to take Stacee Jaxx down a few rungs from his towering ladder of fame and sex appeal. As the site of Stacee’s last band appearance on his way to going solo, the Bourbon Room is Patricia’s prime target for immediate closure.
Vapid romance ensues between Detroit transplant/Bourbon Room barback Drew Boley (charmingly played by teen heartthrob Diego Boneta) and Kansas-escapee Sherie Christian (Julianne Hough). Both are aspiring singers, and Drew is the songwriter of the couple. An acoustic version of the first bars of “Don’t Stop Believin,’” that Drew sings to Sherie under LA’s iconic HOLLYWOOD sign, segues into a joke as he explains that the song goes “on and on and on and on.” Boneta and Hough don’t share enough screen chemistry to raise audience expectations. The fickle condition could be chalked up to the structure of a musical theatrical piece unfriendly to filmic adaptation.
Choreographer-turned-director Adam Shankman (“Hairspray)” is unable to prevent the film’s domino-cascade of two dozen musical set pieces from turning into a visual and aural drone. Still, “Rock of Ages” has enough panache and chutzpah from its well-oiled cast to make for an entertaining good time. Sure, the structure is off and the music is bland, but a centerpiece pool-table sex scene between Stacee Jaxx and Malin Akerman’s sultry Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack leaves a wet spot.
Rated PG-13. 123 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)