ROCK OF AGES
Directed by: Adam Shankman
Written by: Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, Allan Loeb
Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Paul Giamatti, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bryan Cranston
Four years ago, MAMMA MIA! made the once defunct jukebox musical commercially viable again. Structured around ABBA’s ‘70s-era disco hits, MAMMA MIA! rang up an astonishing $600 million worldwide. Not surprisingly, executives at Warner Bros./New Line Cinema sat up (or stood up) and took notice of MAMMA MIA!’s surprising box-office success and responded accordingly, hurried ROCK OF AGES, an ’80s-set, hair-metal themed jukebox musical, into production under the direction of Adam Shankman (HAIRSPRAY, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2, THE PACIFIER, THE WEDDING PLANNER), a decision those same executives will probably come to regret. ROCK OF AGES has little to offer except misplaced nostalgia, a trite, clichéd storyline, broad caricatures (instead of characters), hit-or-miss (mostly miss) casting, sub-mediocre covers of mediocre ’80s glam metal songs, and cringe- and groan-inducing kitschy humor.
ROCK OF AGES nominally centers on Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), a barback at the Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, and Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough), a fresh-off-the-bus-from-Oklahoma-twenty-something pursuing the All-American Dream of becoming a glam metal rock star. She has the long, flowing blonde tresses, unnaturally sparkly smile, and perpetually optimistic personality necessary to make her dreams come true. Sherrie’s dreams, like Drew’s, get a reality check when more mundane matters, like paying rent, clothes, and feeding herself take first position priority wise. After a mugging leaves her without her suitcase, luck arrives in tight jeans and a black, sleeveless tee, Drew. Drew convinces the club’s gruff, but softhearted owner, Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin, sporting an intentionally bad wig), to give Sherrie a waitressing gig at the Bourbon Room.
While Sherrie and Drew play out a cliché-ridden romance, complete with the usual obstacles, misunderstandings, and other complications, ROCK OF AGES’ central character, Stacee Jaxx (a scene-stealing Tom Cruise), the embodiment of the rock star as a debauched and dissolute egotist. Jaxx has returned to the Bourbon Room for one last performance with his band, Arsenal, before he embarks on a solo career. Jaxx’s longtime manager, Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti), is on hand to keep Jaxx in check and the cash rolling in. Gill embodies Jaxx’s mirror opposite, the amoral, no-talent opportunist. Jaxx also faces anti-rock protests led by the current mayor’s (Bryan Cranston) wife, Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a “family values” conservative who wants to shut down the Bourbon Room as the first step toward cleaning up the Sunset Strip.
ROCK OF AGES falters, stumbles, and ultimately fails for a variety of reasons, starting with its condescending, mocking attitude toward the rockers and their milieu. That’s not to say that ‘80s hair metal bands don’t (and didn’t) deserve to be mocked. They do (and did), if only those glam metal stars who took themselves unironically, but Shankman and his writers expect moviegoers to simultaneously laugh at the characters in ROCK OF AGES, revisit an unfounded nostalgia for ‘80s hair metal, and identify with or relate emotionally to the individual characters and their respective character arcs/journeys, an impossible task by any definition. Shoehorning a subplot involving the mayor’s crusading wife doesn’t help either, if for no other reason than its sheer, anachronistic ludicrousness.
As one particular late-night infomercial was fond of stating every other minute, there’s more. Let’s start with casting. Hough and Boneta make for a wan, generic pair. While both Hough and Boneta can carry an (auto) tune, they’re often saddled with songs ill suited to their respective vocal talents. Hough, a standout in last year’s FOOTLOOSE remake, struggles when she’s asked to belt out Pat Benatar’s signature song, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.’ The script sends Boneta’s character into an unpleasant, unfunny tangent after he makes a Faustian pact with the slimy, sleazy Gill. We know Gill’s slimy and sleazy the first moment he enters the room exhibiting nonexistent fashion sense and chewing gum (and scenery in Giamatti’s case). As Drew’s new manager, Gill transforms Drew from rock star wannabe into the lead singer of an intentionally atrocious boy band.
If ROCK OF AGES has any redeeming qualities (or rather quality), it’s Cruise. As Jaxx, Cruise walks the fine line between performance and parody. It’s obvious Cruise is enjoying the change-of-pace role, but Cruise’s energy and enthusiasm doesn’t carry over the rest of the cast (to be fair, despite their best efforts) or every other aspect of the ROCK OF AGES production. Even with those caveats in mind, ‘80s’ pop metal/rock nostalgists will be thoroughly thrilled by ROCK OF AGES. Everyone else, however, should find an alternative means of entertainment this weekend and every subsequent weekend, ad infinitum.