June 15, 2012 by abbyo
The tagline for the new movie-musical “Rock of Ages” advertises the film as “nothing but a good time,” borrowing a lyric from a Poison song of the same name. That tag line is pretty much right on the money. “Rock of Ages,” the screen adaptation of the Broadway jukebox musical, is an hour and 23 minutes of pure rock spectacle. It hasn’t got much substance, but it’s a ton of fun.
The movie, which pays tribute (and pokes plenty of fun at) the hair metal music of the 80’s, is set around The Bourbon Room, a popular concert venue on LA’s sunset strip in 1987. The hit act of the day is Arsenal, a metal band whose bizarro frontman Stacee Jaxx ( a brilliantly unhinged Tom Cruise) is about to start his solo career. Into this setting wanders Sherrie (Julianne Hough), a naïve dreamer from Oklahoma with aspirations of musical stardom. She gets a job at the Bourbon room, and becomes smitten with a fellow aspiring musician. (Diego Boneta). Also on the scene is Catherine Zeta-Jones as the neo-con wife of LA’s new mayor, determined to shut the Bourbon Room down.
The best thing “Rock of Ages” has going for it is its tongue-in-cheek humor. From the opening number, it’s clear that the movie doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest, which comes as a welcome relief, since you can’t give a heartfelt performance of “I Wanna Know What Love Is” and expect people not to laugh at it. Director Adam Shankman borrows heavily from the music videos that accompany the musical’s hit songs for his set pieces, and emphasizes the irony in the way the numbers are set up. For example, having one character sing a ballad while peeing in a urinal. “Rock of Ages” also manages to work in songs and references in ways that don’t make you sick of the music (with the notable exception of Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City,” which is never, EVER okay).
The weak link, however, is the storytelling. At times, the film feels more like a revue and less like a story, with dialogue that only serves to get the characters to the next big song. Some characters, like Zeta-Jones and Bryan Cranston’s horndog mayor, are totally wasted in this movie. Zeta-Jones, in particular, is set up to be the movie’s villain, but she hardly even gets a chance to bear her claws.
However, if you don’t mind the story, which really just takes a backseat to the clever musical set pieces, “Rock of Ages” is pretty darned good. Even though it’s not structurally sound, even though the songs that make up its score are examples of the worst songwriting the 80s had to offer, it’s still more enjoyable than others of its type (“Mamma Mia,” I’m looking at you).