Film Review: Rock of Ages

Directed by Adam Shankman
Starring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta & Tom Cruise

If Def Leopard, Journey and Poison are familiar friends on your iPod and news of The Darkness comeback album has you got you reaching for your tight leather trousers and hairspray then there is a pretty good chance Rock of Ages will be your new favorite movie. Choreographer-now-director Adam Shankman resurrects the perfumed days of Hair Metal to spin a tale of a small town girl, Sherrie (Hough)  livin’ in a lonely world until she hooks up with a city boy rocker, Drew (Boneta) and they fall in love to an afternoon’s worth of VH1 Classics of ’80s Stadium Rock. The lovers both end up waiting tables at West Hollywood Cock Rock Mecca ‘The Bourbon Room’ which is up to its nose in debts and pinning it’s hopes on Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) the decadently wasted lead singer of arena rock giants ‘Arsenal’ who were former Bourbon mainstays and will perform a one-off benefit show for the club before their singer turns solo. Throw in a gaggle of angry Christian mom’s lead by the Mayor’s Anti-Rock crusading wife Patrica (Catherine Zeta Jones) and you have a powder keg of conflict.

Based on the award winning smash musical Shankman assembles a Star-Studded adaptation – Cruise, Zeta Jones, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, Mary J Blige, Bryan Cranston, Marlin Akerman and our kid, Russell Brand – but the big question hanging in the air is will this be a car crash of actors going too far their comfort zones, or will it wind up being some of the most diabolically clever casting of all time? I’m sorry to inform you that it’s the latter, Rock of Ages is a Star-Clogged hot mess of a movie. Shankman, who was responsible for the sucessful but sanitized remake of John Waters’ Hairspray, tries his best to bamboozle us with anthemic fist-pumpers, wild hair and raunchy bodies flying all over the place but he can not hide a movie populated by one-dimensional characters singing shoehorned hits. Like Moulin Rogue or Glee, Rock of Ages is what is defined in business as a Jukebox Musical – where a bunch of licensed pop songs are strung together to create a ready-made musical score.

Detractors of this genre say that because they rely on material that is preexisting that effectively guarantees that the songs can’t grow from the plot organically but Jukebox Musicals such as Mamma Mia! surmount this challenge by steering a story between preexisting tunes through deft writing – doesn’t even bother. But maybe I am missing the point: Hair metal is supposed to be bold, cheesy and crass! When Tom Cruise (channelling party-worn Brett Michaels) gets his ear hole licked by Rolling Stone journo Contance Sack (Akerman) I’m supposed to cringe! It’s pantomime! It’s big emotions! (however faked). Sorry, Shankman, I’m not buying it. Rock of Ages is for the Kareoke set only but everybody else like me would want to hop on that midnight train going anywhere pronto.