Review: Rock Of Ages (2012)

Director: Adam Shankman

*

Ah, ‘80s rock. Remember that? Whether you do or not, the target audience for Rock Of Ages probably doesn’t, so it doesn’t really matter what vision of glam rock is presented here. What we do get, then, is a horrific cheesefest, at once sanitized and messy. There must be something wrong when something so hideous can actually make the likes of David Lee Roth or Gary Cherone look butch. If, like yours truly, you want to rip your ears off every time a DJ plays Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ”, Rock Of Ages will be to you what Jar Jar was to Star Wars geeks. Based on Chris D’Arienzo’s successful Broadway musical, Rock Of Ages is boisterous, high-pitched and utterly devoid of irony. Its sincerity may play well with the ‘Glee’ crowd, but the fans of the original songs and bands will wonder who put Foreigner’s collective testicles in a vice.

Julianne Hough, an apparent go-to-gal for musicals with Burlesque and Footloose under her slim belt, plays Sherie, the small town girl livin’ in a lonely world. She takes the midnight train bus from Oklahoma to Los Angeles to find fame and fortune. As soon as she arrives she’s mugged, but is helped by Drew (Diego Boneta), a barman at the Bourbon Room, a club owned by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and managed by his assistant Lonny (Russell Brand). Baldwin and Brand are here to have a good time, and their antics can’t but upstage Hough and Boneta, whose bland pretty faces combine with utterly uninteresting characters to form two grey walking blobs of ‘meh’. Admittedly, these blobs can sing, but Paul Giamatti’s dreadful ponytail is far more fascinating to watch.

Giamatti plays Paul Gill, manager of Stacee Jaxx, the aging rocker whose group Arsenal are having their last concert at the Bourbon Room before Jaxx goes solo. Jaxx is a washed-up drunken rambling mess played by Tom Cruise, throwing a few neat little nods of acknowledgement at his own public meltdowns. He’s not bad, and his singing is adequate, but there’s more views of his tongue ad upper thighs here than could ever be deemed necessary. Indeed, Rock Of Ages flashes as much flesh as it can within the confines of its 12A/PG-13 rating. Cruise is perma-shirtless, whilst a truly bizarre sequence sees him and Malin Akerman’s Rolling Stone journo strip each other whilst warbling ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’. If the kitschy tunes don’t leave you rolling your eyeballs, the borderline rumpy-pumpy should leave the teens who might have come along with their parents squirming.

Director Adam Shankman had more success with the retro musical in his adaptation of Hairspray; at the very least, that film had interesting characters and a bright, energetic look. Rock Of Ages is all dank clubs, back alleys and gaudy strip joints. Sherie gets a job in the strip club owned by Justice (Mary J. Blige) after her and Drew’s improbably hasty romance breaks down. Meanwhile, the mayor’s Thatcherite wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is campaigning for the Bourbon Room to close, Gill is trying to convert Drew to rap and the tunes continue to be belted out like billy-o. This cast can sing (Zeta-Jones does a mean cover of Pat Benatar’s ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’), but Hough and Boneta do most of it, and their high-pitched Disney-friendly voices are too clear for these songs. ‘Sister Christian’ and ‘More Than Words’ are meant for mournful male vocals, not ditzy Barbie dolls!

Rock Of Ages boasts cardboard cutout characters, a drab look, hyperactive editing, awkward attempts at sexiness and a runtime of over two hours to test your patience. A few game performances (Baldwin, Brand, Cruise) save it from fiasco status, but Rock Of Ages only manages to last ages and doesn’t really rock.

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