It’s easy to see how Rock of Ages became a crowd-pleaser on Broadway, where audiences got caught up in the energy of 80s hit songs performed live. The film adaptation (credited, astonishingly, to three screenwriters, including the show’s creator Chris D’Arenzio) is a dreary collection of clichés and caricatures that doesn’t have one ounce of honest emotion in its elongated 123 minutes.
You know we’re in trouble when the movie opens on Julianne Hough as a wide-eyed girl from Oklahoma who comes to Hollywood seeking fame and fortune. Within moments of her arrival she meets a similarly clean-cut guy (Diego Boneta) who shares her dream, and they fall in love. Are we really supposed to care about such cardboard characters? With a bland, predictable romantic storyline at its core, and two charisma-free stars performing one song after another, Rock of Ages shoots itself in the foot.
Fortunately, Hough and Boneta are surrounded by more colorful and experienced people, but they’ve all been directed (by Adam Shankman) to play their roles as broadly as possible. It’s mildly amusing to watch Alec Baldwin (in a fright wig) as a beleaguered club owner and Russell Brand as his right-hand man, they’re never quite as funny as they ought to be. Ditto Catherine Zeta-Jones in a one-note performance as the mayor’s strident wife who wants to clean up the Sunset Strip. Mary J. Blige’s entrance, as a soulful strip club owner, is so corny I actually laughed out loud.
As for Tom Cruise, there’s definite novelty value in watching the still-charismatic star play a hedonistic, mostly shirtless rock star, though I found his raunchy love scenes with Malin Akerman somewhat embarrassing.
If you love the songs of the 80s, I’d think you’d want to hear them performed in better surroundings—by better singers—than you can here. Those songs may endure, but Rock of Ages is not a film for the ages.
Rock of Ages, now available on Blu-ray and DVD.