Rock of Ages had me rolling … my eyes
‘Rock of Ages’ wants to rock you like a hurricane, but you may just end up rolling on the floor with laughter at the absurdity of it all.
In my varied retail career, I worked in three different record stores during three different and distinct musical eras — New Wave, Grunge and Hair Bands — so I had a feel for what Rock of Ages was going to be about, especially since much of the promotion leading up to the movie focused on Tom Cruise as ruined rocker Stacee Jaxx. Not being at all familiar with the Broadway musical on which the movie is based, I was actually surprised to find the story focused more on two other characters looking for love in the pursuit of rock and roll glory … although I guess I should have figured that out since Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta actually received top billing (and, if I remember correctly, there was quite a brouhaha around the lavishly appointed CliqueClack offices about that billing).
Sitting down to watch the movie for the first time on Blu-ray, I found myself mightily confused by what the movie was supposed to be. Was it a look at the destructive power of rock and roll on a person’s soul, was it a bubble gum love story, or was it just a big screen version of Glee recast with movie stars? It’s really hard to say.
Reading up on the Broadway version of Rock of Ages, I’ve discovered that while the show and the movie do share a similar storyline, a lot of things have been changed for the movie, particularly the subplot about the gentrification of the Sunset Strip, home to The Bourbon Room, the notorious rock and roll club where Stacee Jaxx and his band Arsenal are scheduled to perform their final show before Jaxx goes solo. The show involves a father and son team of developers from Germany, while the movie brings in publicity hungry Patricia Whitmore, wife of the mayor, who needs to score some points with voters and moneyed interests, as well as impress her circle of church ladies by focusing on the destruction of The Bourbon as a way to “clean up” the Strip.
A lot of the movie is pretty over-the-top, but Catherine Zeta-Jones pretty much chews up the scenery whenever she’s on screen (and she really doesn’t get a lot of face time), and has one of the film’s more hilariously choreographed numbers as she and her friends high kick, gyrate and pelvic thrust their way through “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” … in the aisle and pews of the church. I really could not believe my eyes. (And speaking of loopy, I could not believe the gay love story that came out of nowhere. I won’t ruin it for those who haven’t seen it, but is that in the actual show?) Unfortunately, Bryan Cranston as her husband is wasted in a subplot that shows him as a philandering conservative that goes nowhere and has no effect on the outcome of Patricia’s story arc. Mary J. Blige also suffers the same fate as the owner of The Venus Club, showing up to help Sherrie after her break-up, and then just pops up every now and again to sing a line or two of a song, edited in with the rest of the cast.
Hough and Boneta, as Drew, almost seem to be in a completely different movie … or movies … channeling their performances and story from other musicals like Grease, Xanadu, and Moulin Rouge. In fact, Boneta almost reminds me a bit of Michael Beck in Xanadu, but at least he can sing (and I assume everyone is doing their own singing, although Russell Brand is a bit suspect). Hough, though, brings a sweet innocence to the role and I couldn’t help thinking that she should have played the Christina Aguilara role in Burlesque instead of just being one of the dancers with a small subplot. Of course, the real star of the show is Tom Cruise and he totally immerses himself in this Axl Rose-ish rock star teetering on the edge of destruction role. Even when the script calls for him to be a bit campy, Cruise is still magnetic (and in the best shape of his life) and you really can’t take your eyes off of him (or his huge torso tattoo). And he’s got a terrific voice to boot! I can take Cruise or leave him, but he’s simply mesmerizing as Stacee Jaxx.