“ROCK OF AGES” IS A MUSICAL FOR THE AGES
“Rock of Ages” is a rock-in-your-seat celebration extravaganza of the rock n’ roll culture in the late 80′s that, to this day, still has an impact on the way we view music, singers, and the industry. This was the height of chaos – and man, this movie makes it look so much fun.
The year is 1987, when rock n’ roll was on its way out to make way for pop and was fighting with every inch of its life to stay afloat by its manic fans. The Bourbon Room on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood was one such temple for rock, owned by Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and his right-hand man Lonny (Russell Brand). We are introduced to the story through the young and innocent eyes of Oklahoma-girl-out-to-find-glory Sherrie (Julianne Hough), who has moved to Los Angeles to become a singer. She finds herself catching the eye of ambitious bus boy Drew (Diego Boneta) and getting a job as a waitress at the Bourbon. Now the Bourbon is in the middle of an unpaid taxes crisis due to some serious political pressure from ambitious wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) of the city Mayor (Bryan Cranston). If they don’t pay up, they lose the business. Their last hope is massive rock icon Stacey Jaxx (Tom Cruise), an over-the-hill diva who can still effortlessly control the libidos of every woman in the audience with his charisma, and Jaxx’s manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti). We follow all the characters while, at the forefront, Sherrie and Drew follow their dreams only to find that their choices will come down to love versus fame.
Thrillingly directed and impressively choreographed, director Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) makes “Rock of Ages” an unfair amount of fun; so much fun, in fact, that I can’t think of another musical experience I enjoyed more. Probably the only musical I love is “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber on Fleet Street,” and this definitely gives that movie a run for its money. I can’t speak as a fan of the actual Broadway musical or as a member of the 80′s musical era, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of this thing.
It’s witty, it’s catchy, and it’s entirely bewitching to watch some prominent members of Hollywood’s elite belting out some of the most classic tunes of the 80′s. The first song (“Just like Paradise”) sets the stage with starting up slowly and blowing up in complete awesomeness. I had reservations as the song started – but by its end, it left me with no doubts that I was going to have quite the ride.
The story moves on at an entertaining and funny clip, but the introduction of Stacey Jaxx throws everything into a whole new gear of delirious entertainment. The laugh-out-load humor really works to balance out the absurdity of the musical itself, from using the ‘normality’ of the 80′s, clever 80′s cultural references (from Margaret Thatcher to the rather humble beginnings of rap), and character quirkiness. It all works. We never have a chance to get bored or tired of the trope currently on screen.
I adored the outstanding soundtrack, as well. Granted, I know that the 80′s had a LOT of great music to choose from, but I enjoyed some of these a lot – especially “Living in Paradise,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “I Want to know what Love is,” and “Don’t Stop Believing.” Come on – you can’t go wrong when your selection includes Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Journey, Poison, and Twisted Sister. Outside of the rather shoehorned use of “Hit Me with your Best Shot,” I can’t think of a musical choice that I didn’t fully enjoy. Basically, a bunch of good songs and some absolutely great songs.
These characters might not be the most dimensional outside of Stacey Jaxx, but they all have a level of quirky eccentricity and fast-paced wit that makes them a joy to watch. No one is SO cliched that they feel like a drag on everyone else (ESPECIALLY during the non-singing scenes), a fact I appreciate. Just one annoying supporting member of the cast can effectively kill a musical – and the casting is effective enough that such an event never happens. The two teenyboppers are cute together, especially when they sing “Heaven” (and I have no problem in saying Julianne Hough is adorable). Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are hysterical together with an impeccable comedic timing that only gets better as the film goes on (their duet of “Can’t Fight This Feeling” is one of the funniest moments in the film). It was fun to see Catherine Zeta-Jones return to the musical film stage as a Tipper Gore-like figure, but it would have been nice to see her put to better use than two songs.
The biggest surprise is how I could easily do this review solely on Tom Cruise’s wowing performance as Stacey Jaxx. He’s an absolute scream, from his larger-than-life swagger to his uproarious eccentricity. His introduction and following interview with Rolling Stone had me rolling. He’s extremely talented when it comes to singing (I was in utter awe during his renditions of “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me”). But the real gem of the performance is how Cruise is somehow able to convey a rocker whose already past his prime both on and off the stage, but even with that over-the-hill element deeply rooted, he still implants a larger-than-life charisma and stage power in everything he does. Even with him only being a fraction of what he used to be, he can level a woman with little more than a gaze. What’s so great about both Cruise and Jaxx is that they embody the heart and soul of what made the classic rock n’ roll rock stars catch the hearts of women across the nation for decades. Jim Morrison… Mick Jagger… Steven Tyler… Cruise acts like he’s been one of these guys his whole life in how he oozes charisma and emotes sexual magnetism that feels deserving of his character’s reputation. This is a brilliant role from a brilliant actor. This is an actual “performance,” one that explodes on screen and takes our senses hostage. I’ve never liked Cruise as much as I do here. This is a definite for a Golden Globe and maybe even have a possibility for some Oscar attention.
Delicious, volatile, and energetic, “Rock of Ages” is a truly mesmerizing example of capturing that indelible rush of attending an explosive live concert. There’s an undeniable exuberance in every scene that’s so delectably contagious right to the heart of the viewer that you feel like getting up and rocking out right then and there. Ultimately, this is one musical you don’t have to be a fan of the genre to enjoy.