Greetings again from the darkness. A few upfront disclosures are in order: I spent quite a few evenings on the Sunset Strip during the era of this story; I had no idea who Diego Boneta was and only vague name recognition of Julianne Hough when I walked in; and I never saw the hit Broadway production. These points may help explain my reaction to the movie.
The opening sequence immediately informs us that we are in for something different. Aspiring singer Sherrie Christian (Ms. Hough) is running from her backwoods Oklahoma life to the bright lights of fame offered by Hollywood. While on the bus, we get the first of an endless stream of staged karaoke routines … “Sister Christian” (get it??). Once on Sunset Boulevard, she is quickly mugged and then comforted by Drew (Mr. Boneta), an aspiring singer and current barhop at The Bourbon, an obvious nod to such hallowed rock ground as Whisky A Go Go and Roxy.
No need to spend much time discussing plot. There is a muddled love story filled with teenager dreams and miscommunication, and a financial crisis at The Bourbon, thanks to back taxes owed by manager Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), and a political backlash against the club thanks to the Mayor’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who has a not so secret desire for revenge. The only way to save the club is for rock idol Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to play a gig. The only way to save the love story is to write it out of the film all together. The political agenda is simply an excuse to add two more excruciating karaoke numbers.
What little fun there is in the movie is thanks to Cruise, Baldwin and Russell Brand, who plays Baldin’s sidekick and confidant. Cruise jumps into the Jaxx role with both feet and seems to understand that a parody should be fun. Being a rock idol isn’t far removed from being the biggest movie star on the planet, so Cruise blends Axl Rose and Bret Michaels to create Jaxx … throw in a pet baboon, two He-men bodyguards, an endless train of groupies, and a dragon codpiece … and you get Stacee Jaxx, legendary rock star and savior to The Bourbon.
If one is going to make a rock ‘n roll movie, it either needs to be played straight (Almost Famous) or as a head-on parody (This is Spinal Tap). What it can’t do is celebrate the dead zone of lameness: lame music covered by lame singers playing lame characters. No amount of star power actors can overcome material that doesn’t capture the power and passion of the music. And we aren’t even talking real rock n roll here … this is glam rock, stadium rock, big hair bands. Yet, the movie still falls incredibly short of making a statement or providing insight or even entertainment. This one has quite a bit in common with Burlesque (except Christina Aguilera is a terrific singer).
Cruise’s performance generates some laughs, as do Baldwin and Brand. However, Hough and Boneta aren’t even cringe-worthy. They have zero screen presence and neither belong in a rock movie. The sub-standard singing becomes quite apparent when Mary J Blige belts out her first song. That is a real voice on a real singer. Maybe the real problem is that most of the songs in the movie have survived these 25 years despite mediocrity … they can easily be sung while intoxicated. Evidently that’s not enough for a decent movie. I have long been a fan of movie musicals. The ones that work feature good singers with acting ability singing good songs in a way that advances the story. Rock of Ages misses on all of those points.
note: check for cameos by Eli Roth, Sebastian Bach, Debbie Gibson, Kevin Cronin, and a Lita Ford poster
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: your musical tastes lean towards late 80’s rock OR you want to see Tom Cruise mega-movie star evolve into Stacee Jaxx mega-rock star
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you relate a night at the karoke bar to a dentist appointment
watch the trailer: