‘Rock Of Ages’ Review
An ultimately failed ode to 80′s rock with only one reason to see it – Tom Cruise.
It’s no secret that trying to make a good musical is a very hard thing to do, and ‘Rock of Ages’ only goes out to prove that fact. It has all the glamour of the 80’s, an excellent ensemble cast and a lot of great nostalgic hits on its roster. Yet there’s so much that it does wrong on the script level that it ends up ruining all of that and becomes a mostly failed effort. Yet the film also proves how one actor can completely outshine everything else in the film- and that is Tom Cruise in what will become a legendary performance as a rockstar Stacie Jaxx.
Set in the late 80’s rock scene in LA, the film follows small town girl Sherrie and city boy Drew as they meet in the city to pursue their dreams of singing. Working in a bar filled with quirky characters, they form a romance but meet many obstacles on their road to fame and success. But things take a turn on the night of the biggest rock event the city has ever seen – the final performance of an out of control and spiralling rockstar Stacie Jaxx (Tom Cruise).
The 80’s rock scene is definitely a period that most people remember as great music considering the kind of output that it led to, and obviously making a movie about that would pull in a lot of nostalgic fans hoping to re-live that time where it was all about rock and roll and not the current pop auto-tune music that plagues the radio. ‘Rock of Ages’ does things visually right and captures the excessively vivid look of the period. It’s got as good a cast as a musical could hope for, with actors like Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Malin Akerman, Bryan Cranston among others. And the musical roster is pretty impressive, with the bigwigs like Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Poison, Twister Sister and others to boast. But despite all that, the movie takes some fundamentally wrong decisions that undermines all of the above.
Let’s start with the story. You have the story of an out of control iconic rocker who gets all the media attention from the good to the bad and has his fans love him, but you can see he’s spinning out of control. You have two bar owners that are in debt and the only thing that can save their bar is a sold-out final performance by the biggest rockstar there is in the name of rock and roll. Two perfectly intriguing and actually interesting stories that you could take and make a film about. Yet the filmmakers managed to choose the least interesting story in the film and make it the leading plot – two young kids arriving to town with hopes to make it big in the city of LA. It’s a cliched and uninteresting plot that we’ve seen in thousands of movies before, and done much better than this movie comes even close to doing.
That’s the single biggest problem with the film – an extremely bland storyline at its core. And add to that a cheesy and such an awful romantic angle that it’s not only cringe-worthy to watch most of the time but is almost a parody of itself with the terrible dialogues and scenes that follow. I’m not saying that the movie on the whole has a bad story, because that’s not the case. The two stories I mentioned above are far more interesting when you get to see them, but it’s unfortunate that most of the time is spent on these cheesy youngsters and their trials and tribulations in love and fame. Every single scene of them in it is particularly subpar, made terrible by the worst renditions of the songs implemented at the most awkward of moments. I heard the audience laughing out loud during these random musical outbursts, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be funny. No matter how much I try to forget about it, the fact is that this is the main plot of the film and everything actually interesting is in the backdrop, which is what leads to a mostly cheesy and disappointing experience that will have you wishing the film ends sooner than it actually does.
But if you can get past that (which is not an easy feat), there are things to like in the film and one of the biggest of those things is Tom Cruise himself. Playing an out of control rockstar here in a role so far away from everything he’s ever done, he’s a revelation and completely transforms himself by embodying the persona of this troubled but highly loved rockstar of the 80’s complete with the crazy hair-do, shirtlessness and the attitude to boot. Unlike the main track, every single scene with his character Stacie Jaxx in it is by far the best of the film and ultimately the reason for the rating that I give the film. It’s like there’s a very good movie buried deep inside ‘Rock of Ages’ waiting to come out but finds itself buried under the weight of a misguided and tonally confused main plot. Which is another problem with the movie – there’s quite a jarring shift in tone with the tracks that the film has. It’s like the producers wanted to cater not only to the nostalgic rock fans but also to the fans of the TV show ‘Glee’, which is why we get a lot of glamorous auto-tuned tracks that aren’t rock in any sense and will end up alienating the rock fans that paid to see the film. There’s also a terribly wasteful subplot in here starring Mary J. Blige as an owner of a strip club and the film does absolutely nothing with her or that plot itself. Before you know it, it’s gone and is never mentioned again. Bad plotting like this is one of the other reasons why ‘Rock of Ages’ is so crushingly disappointing.
I’ve already raved enough about Tom Cruise’s electric performance as Stacie Jaxx and he remains the only reason to watch the film should you ever choose to, but other good performances include Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand who provided some hilarious comic relief to the film that actually works in its favor. Catherine Zeta-Jones is given much less screentime as I hoped and turns up her performance a little too over the top, but leaves an impression. So do Paul Giammati and Bryan Cranston. Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta are pretty to look at as the young leads, but their performances are too confused and ultimately feel like they belong in an entirely different genre of music.
‘Rock of Ages’ fails on many respects as a musical thanks to its paper thin plotting which itself is focused on all the wrong aspects of it and a tonally confused roster, but Tom Cruise’s performance is so lasting and memorable that it’s hard not to be impressed by it. Without him, this would be bottom of the barrel stuff. But rock fans might have a kick out of his storyline, and that’s the only reason to consider this ultimately failed musical adaptation.