|Rock of Ages
Starring Julianne Hough, Diego Bonita, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin
Rock of Ages desperately, desperately wants to be a grand celebration of the 70s and 80s rock culture, a modern day Grease that gives us a larger-then-life depiction of the world so many of us love. Does it succeed? In that highly specialized area, yes, but it doesn't come without a busload of character and pacing problems.
First off, it should be said that no one can ever accuse the filmmakers of not loving the world of rock and roll. It's depiction of a wonderfully exaggerated version of the 1987 L.A. music scene is one area where the film really shines. From the stars, fans, and groupies, we get see the good, the bad, and the weird parts of a world most of us have only heard about.
The second area that the film succeeds in is the songs. We get a medley of classic rock songs sung by actors who were clearly chosen for their voices as much as their star power. Tom Cruise is a surprisingly good singer, and even Paul Giamatti belts out a few verses at one point. The choreography is as good as you'd expect in a high budget musical, and the songs, while they don't always really fit into the plot, are combined and implemented in some very creative ways. A mix of We Built This City and We're Not Gonna Take It is probably the highlight of the whole film.
It's a testament to just how strong those two aspects of the movie are when you consider just how abysmal the plot it. Well, maybe not the plot so much as it's execution. I'm guessing that the stage musical that this was based on was longer and allowed the story to breath more, but here it's just a barely-structured mess.
The movie (kind of) centers around Drew (Diego Bonita) and Sherry (Julianne Hough), two kids who came to L.A. dreaming of rock and roll fame, both working at the former musical hot spot The Bourbon Room. They meet, they fall in love, they break up over a stupid misunderstanding, they get back together again, and they hit musical stardom. There's nothing wrong with that structure, if we care about them. You can probably guess what I'm going to say next: we don't.
Both of them are really, really, bland. This would be bad enough in any movie, but here they are constantly surrounded by larger then life characters who happen to be having much more fun. I couldn't help but wonder why they were even in this movie, and that's the worst thing you can ever think about the main characters.
The other major characters are Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), the manager of the bar and his right hand man Lonny Barnett (Russell Brand). Also starring, of course, is Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, the quintesential arrogant, always-drowning-in-booze-and-groupies rock star. When we see these characters in the background of the story, we can't help but with the plot was focusing on them. The real dissapointment is that there are times that the story does focus on them, but these snippets are so awkwardly shoe-horned in they only serve to take up space and pad out the soundtrack. Stacee has a frustratingly long romantic subplot with a Rolling Stone reporter which supposedly leads to a poignant change in his character. It plays out so nonsensically, though, that I'm still not sure what the hell even happened during it.
On top of all this we get the supposed villain of the story, a morality activist played by Catherine Zeta Jones. She holds up angry signs and barks out vague threats about shutting the rock venue down, but nothing ever really happens with it. If that weren't bad enough, screentime is also devoted to her husband (Bryan Cranston) and his strange perversions that never have any direct impact on what she's doing. This is a movie that gives us a useless subplot within ANOTHER useless subplot.
With so many story threads but so little development, we get a story that manages to feel both completely thin and way too long. This only clocks in at 2 hours, but I felt like I was in the theater for twice that.
Rock of Ages is made for classic rock fanatics, and for that audience it will probably succeed. Everyone else should stay away and maybe just check out the best scenes on DVD.