Rock Candy with a Soft and Gooey Center
by Jansen Musico
Rock of Ages (2012)
D: Adam Shankman
S: Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti
After seeing Adam Shankman’s Rock of Ages, I am thoroughly convinced that movie musicals need more stiletto stomping. The film is a far cry from its stage play counterpart. But with production numbers set to timeless pop-rock anthems wonderfully choreographed by Mia Michaels, it retains a certain level of entertainment that still can be deemed enjoyable.
Rock of Ages, set in 1987, follows a group of characters charting their lives in Hollywood. Small-town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and city boy Drew (Diego Boneta) are aspiring singers demoted to serving drinks at The Bourbon, a bar in debt, operated by Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand). Dennis asks the help of Iggy Pop-esque rock superstar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to keep The Bourbon afloat, but Jaxx’s manager Paul (Paul Giamatti) has other things in mind. Meanwhile, Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the conservative wife of the mayor, rallies like-minded good Catholic belles to have the bar shut down for its negative impact on LA’s youth and pristine image.
Fans of the original stage play will have to find their footing in the film version. With the introduction of new characters, sacking of old ones, shuffling of selected songs, and a drastic rewrite of the ending, there is a tendency for theater purists to get disappointed, if not temporarily disoriented. But all that is expected in a Shankman adaptation. Much like his stage-to-screen take on Hairspray, his version of Rock of Ages is tailored for people who just want to have a good time. And if you’re a fan of American rock music from the late 80s and early 90s, then the movie is a treat.
The film is a buffet of karaoke performances. The two main leads start off rough with their first few songs, but Hough and Boneta slowly settle into their roles in the middle of their cover medley of “More Than Words” and “Heaven.” Both are good enough to carry their respective scenes, but the star power of their fellow cast members ultimately outshine them. Giamatti and Baldwin clearly have fun in their roles. And, as expected, Zeta-Jones nails each of her scenes flawlessly, while Mary J. Blige also glitters (sometimes literally) in her performance as the strip club owner Justice. Her soulful voice was a nice touch to classic rock anthems.
Unexpectedly, Cruise also belted out several tunes, a fact that still leaves me in disbelief. Whether it is or isn’t his thin, shrill voice on the tracks doesn’t matter. Cruise epitomizes sleazy rock star. His character drips with all the filth and sex of rock and roll. Cruise uses this rock god swagger to turn most of the film into the Stacee Jaxx show. The character was interesting, but deviating from the original Stacee storyline took some of his grit away, something that the film could have benefitted from.
Instead of squeezing its audience into a mosh pit for a headbanging, foot-stomping, air-guitar-shredding good time, Shankman’s Rock of Ages cradles them in its big burly arms and sings them good-old sweet and cheesy rock anthems. The movie makes for fun, nostalgic viewing, but it’s nowhere near a great rock show.