The “Rock of Ages” movie: All Swagger, No Soul

rock of ages julianneROCK OF AGES 

D: Adam Shankman  
S: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Malin Akerman, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cranston  

To adapt a stage musical into a movie is a Herculean undertaking. It’s not easy to expand what’s originally envisioned for a limited space (that being the stage) into an infinitely broader landscape. Yes, there are successful transitions, like West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965), but apart from those aforementioned classics, many musicals flunked in their foray to film. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) was campy, Yentl (1983) was a drag, and Rent (2006) was a forgettable mixed bag. Behold the latest addition to the latter category.

Written by Chris D’Arienzo, Rock of Ages has been captivating Broadway audiences since 2005 for its stage re-working of hits from the hair-metal era. For this film adaptation, D’Arienzo collaborated with writers Justin Theroux and Allan Loeb in retelling the story of small town girl Sherrie falling in love with big city boy Drew, who shares her dreams of stardom. Playing that pivotal star-crossed pair in this version are newcomers Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta. To complete the formula, director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) had to conjure up a star-studded cast to portray the rest. And conjure them he did.

Alec Baldwin plays Dennis Dupree, owner of the struggling Bourbon Room where both Drew and Sherrie work. To save his joint, Dennis booked legendary rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) for one last gig with his band Arsenal before embarking on a solo career. However, Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta Jones), the wife of the city’s philandering mayor (Bryan Cranston), has publicly waged a holy war against rock music and wants the club closed. Subplots ensue. Stacee’s scumbag of a manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) plans to swindle the ticket sales from Dennis and his right hand Lonny (Russell Brand).  Along the way, Sherrie falls under the wing of strip club owner Justice (Mary J. Blige), and Stacee starts cavorting with Rolling Stone correspondent Constance Sack (Malin Akerman). All this set to music incessantly mangled in karaoke and Glee.

On paper, it all seems like irresistible sing-along fare. But an enthusiastic cast can only do so much with wafer-thin, stereotypical characters. While such characterization flaws didn’t deduct from Rock of Ages’ charm on stage, they are all magnified in this bloated, 123-minute film version. Cruise is all swagger, but almost soulless as Jaxx, while Boneta and Hough (fresh out of her stint in Dancing With the Stars) are more sticky-sweet than sincere.

There’s still entertainment value to spare from the nostalgic 80s soundtrack; Zeta Jones’ take on Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot is the particular humdinger. Then again, you can probably get the same amount of enjoyment from whipping up your own playlist. With not much else at its core, this cinematic rendering of Rock of Ages staggers – unbecoming for a tribute to music’s most exuberant genre.

RATING: 2.0 out of 5

1 comment

  1. Based on the critically monstered stage production of the same name, Rock of Ages features such diverse players as Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Cruise gargling a range of 1980s glam rock standards while gamely flexing their pelvises at the camera. The original show pitted the sticky denizens of a down-at-heel music venue on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip against a German property developer, although for Shankman’s version, the villains have been upgraded to the only people his three screenwriters seem to think are even less hip than Germans: Christians.

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