Rock Of Ages, the Broadway musical that has been delighting theatre audiences for years, has been adapted into a big-screen film with an (almost) all-star cast. Director Adam Shankman did a superb job at adapting Hairspray a few years back. He brought a great energy to the period musical with big hair in the 1960s, so he seems like the perfect person to bring a musical with more big hair set in the 1980s to the screen. Unfortunately, that doesn’t prove to be the case.
There’s a lot going on in Rock Of Ages. The main plot is about a just a small town girl living in a lonely world…wait, hold on. It’s about a small town girl who comes to Hollywood to follow her dream to be a famous singer. In order to pay the bills, she gets a job in a bar. Yes, this is the exact same plot as Burlesque. And like that failed musical, the role is played by an attractive but boring blonde. This time it’s Julianne Hough (Dancing With The Stars, Footloose) instead of Christina Aguilera. And of course, there’s “a boy” (newcommer Diego Boneta). He’s as bland as she is, and the movie spends far too much time on them. The opening “meet cute” scene between them is eye-rollingly bad. The 20-second interaction between Tom Cruise and Catherine Zeta-Jones later in the film is more entertaining and interesting than all of Hough’s and Boneta’s scenes combined.
The supporting cast is the film’s greatest asset but, in a way, it’s also its downfall. The A-listers are all so good, you just want to see more of them instead of the boring leads. I’ll never forget the opening shot of Tom Cruise. Well, it’s not really of him. It’s more of a shot of one of Cruise’s body parts. Cruise tears into this role of a rock star at the top of his game. Cruise? A rock star? I never thought it would work, but Cruise is sexy, hilarious, and completely convincing as the oddball heartthrob. He owns that stage when he’s performing classics like “Wanted Dead Or Alive”, and “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.
Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are a ton of fun at the bar owners where all the action takes place. Mary J. Blige pops up later in the film as a stripclub owner. Once she shows up, she’s featured in pretty much every single musical number that comes after. Why? No idea. Other than to hear her sing 80s rock classics, she has no other purpose in the story.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Catherine Zeta-Jones (who plays the villain of the story, the wife of a mayoral candidate who wants to rid L.A. of disgusting rock ‘n’ roll) is underused on the soundtrack. She sounds awesome on her one big number (“Hit Me With Your Best Shot”), but Shankman even clouds that by intercutting the number with a scene where her husband (Bryan Cranston) is participating in some S&M adultery. Why? I dunno.
Then (in one of the most entertaining scenes) she gets to sing the chorus of “We’re Not Going To Take It” in the street while Russell Brand is on the other side of the street singing “We’re Built This City”. Shankman should feel ashamed for convincing Zeta-Jones to make this her comeback to the musical genre and using the Oscar winner’s pipes so little.
All the supporting players are playing to the rafters and it works. Unfortunately, Shankman doesn’t make that the only over-the-top element of the film. Along with 2 boring leads, everything is visually excessive from the editing to the choreography to random visual gags (Note: Tom Cruise as a rock star doesn’t need to share his scenes with a sidekick monkey).
It’s just too much. It gets to the point that it seems that they are just throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. There are moments that really work here, and the music is spectacularly good. The production on all the covers (and the inspired mashups) is top-notch. Unfortunately, the direction is unfocused and a free for all of excessiveness. Even rock ‘n’ roll knows you need to exercise some restraint.