The popular hair band musical Rock of Ages hits the big screen with an all-star cast and over 20 classic rock songs, and while short on character development and quality performances, it's an entertaining two-hour romp that's easy to enjoy.
Rock of Ages is a movie that critics will hate and audiences will like. It resides on a plane that misses the mark in most categories critics, myself included, normally focus on but revels in a territory where mindless fun rules, a fanciful blast from the past that rarely takes itself serious, for better or for worse.
Take Alec Baldwin, who plays a long-haired pre-hipster who owns the most popular night club in Hollywood - the same night club that's the target of a morality crusade by the mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Baldwin's performance is in many ways quite terrible, but he knows it, embraces it and has fun with it. The energy the cast brings to the production permeates through every facet of the show.
And let's be clear: Rock of Ages is a show more than a movie.
The music is what makes the movie, as I'm sure is the case with the Broadway stage play. Featuring songs from Def Leppard, Journey, Posion, Twisted Sister, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Joan Jett and more, there's rarely a moment to breathe - again, for better or for worse - before a new musical number begins. For those who love rock, it would be hard not to enjoy this movie.
But, haters are going to hate, and there are definitely places where director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) fell short that my fellow critics are bound to pounce on. The production's music and energy glosses over many of the film's faults, but they are glaring.
The acting is generally lousy. While Tom Cruise is surprisingly great as a drunken and depressed Stacee Jaxx, the two leads pale in comparison to their more well known counterparts. Julianne Hough grew on me as the movie progresses, perhaps because she gets hotter in every scene, but her wide-eyed happy country girl routine seems more suited for Broadway than a major Hollywood production. Diego Boneta, unfortunately, is the one who looks like a deer caught in headlights; he's consistently flat and way out of his league.
The problem is that the movie revolves around the romance between these two young actors, but they have no chemistry with one another. It doesn't help that the screenplay didn't drop a couple of songs in favor of giving them a few more minutes to develop together; they fall in love instantly and their relationship progresses primarily through a montage, which means the audience misses out on discovering why they love each other so much. Last I checked, being interested in the same music does not lead to love.
Nevertheless, as stated before, Rock of Ages revels in being escapist entertainment, and escapist entertainment it is. Had Shankman spent more time developing the characters, had cast more convincing leads and focused more on the heart of the story than the music, the movie would have fired on all cylinders. Instead, Rock of Ages is simply a fun way to spend a couple of hours. Nothing more, nothing less.
And in summer, there's nothing wrong with that.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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