First debuting in 2006 before finally making it to Broadway in 2009, Rock Of Ages has enjoyed great success and is still running today. So what happens when a theatrical production makes bucket loads of money? Adapt it for the big screen, and make even more. But whilst initial Box Office results in the USA have been less than promising after making only fifteen million dollars on a seventy five million dollar budget, the film version is a faithful adaptation that is likely to be a flop today, cult hit tomorrow.
Set in 1987, Rock Of Ages starts out with Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) travelling to Hollywood in pursuit of her dreams as a singer. After being mugged of her records pretty much instantly on her arrival, she meets barback Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) who comes to her aid and offers her a job at the legendary Bourbon Room club. The owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) reluctantly hires her, and romance blossoms between the two workers. When iconic rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) and his band Arsenal select the Bourbon Room as the location for their last concert, Dupree is delighted; he sees it as the show to save the club from financial ruin. As expected, the concert doesn’t go according to plan, and throws up a range of compromising situations for each character; the only thing that keeps them together is their love for Rock & Roll.
The big cast names (Cruise, Baldwin, Brand) are better actors than singers; although Cruise does impress as frontman Jaxx, not taking into account just how much post production work of his voice has been undertaken. Leads Hough and Boneta have undeniable screen chemistry, but on the acting front they are more on par with theatrical performers. Normally, this would be a criticism, but it’s what there roles required. Rock Of Ages never fully feels like a cinematic event; it’s more of a stage show with elaborate sets. Now this may be because I’ve not seen that many musicals, but the universe that it’s set in is crazy: it’s totally okay to spontaneously burst into song, mid conversation, whilst passers by not only join in, but know exactly what situation the character is in and the reasoning behind that particular song. On occasion, there would barely be two words spoken before another musical number began, and it comes across as a desperate attempt to fit in as many of the songs featured in the Broadway show as possible. Whilst we’re on the subject of the songs, the title would be more fitting as “Rock Ballads Of Ages”, as for the most part that’s exactly what they are. The straight up rock songs are, understandably, safe choices, with Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing featuring heavily in the soundtrack, while other artists featured are Bon Jovi, Foreigner, Def Leppard, Poison and Night Ranger.
What is most surprising is that none of the songs are ruined by having them sung ‘Glee’ style; sure, they are stripped of any power that they had, but this is replaced pyrotechnics, colour and bright lights to distract you from noticing. Having the lead actor wear a ‘Slayer’ t-shirt in one scene and displaying Metallica, Iron Maiden and Anthrax records in another seemed out of place even in a movie like this, although it would have been nice (and undoubtedly hilarious) to hear the cast break out with a rendition of Angel Of Death.
Cruise is far and away the biggest star attached to this picture, and in that sense he’s not too dissimilar to his character, Stacee Jaxx. Much like in Tropic Thunder also, he is the show stealer even as a supporting cast member. Jaxx is noticeably based on a specific real life rock star, one I’m not going to disclose here, but the clue is in the song heard in the opening credits. And the bandana. And his terrible punctuality.
Credit goes to Paul Giamatti as Staxx’s slimy, green gum chewing manager; it’s a role he steps into perfectly. Both Baldwin and Russell Brand provide most of the comedy as the owner/right hand man combo, but Brand’s Birmingham accent makes me wonder if Ozzy Osbourne was his vocal coach. Catherine Zeta Jones and Bryan Cranston are unnecessary original characters not featured in the play, and in my opinion provide nothing of value.
Camper than a row of pink tents, Rock Of Ages is flamboyant, colourful and energetic whilst still respecting the music that made it possible. Admittedly, it’s a little overlong, and the 12A rating decision is unquestionably a lenient one; there’s bad language flying all over the place (with even an F-Bomb dropped) and clothes wearing is minimal. But with a charismatic performance from Cruise and genuinely funny turns from Baldwin and Brand, if you can suspend your disbelief past the first scene, Rock Of Ages proves that you can still rock in America.