REVIEW: Rock of Ages. Starring Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Directed by Adam Shankman. M. State Cinema.
Nothing succeeds like excess, as someone once said, and the 1980s "hair rock" scene gave us plenty that was memorable, good and bad, even if rock was already notorious for over-the-top looks and behaviour.
Rock of Ages – a jukebox musical featuring songs from the likes of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Poison and Twisted Sister – is an enjoyable nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up shaking his or her head to the raucous sounds of guys in tight spandex pants, but the film version forgets that it was also a genre that didn't take itself too seriously.
At its heart, it's the old chasing-your-dreams-while-falling-in-love story. Starry-eyed teenager Sherrie (Footloose's Julianne Hough) arrives in Los Angeles from Oklahoma, hoping to make it as a singer. She lands a job at Sunset Strip rock club the Bourbon Room with the help of Drew (Diego Boneta), who has his own dreams of rock stardom, and before you know it, they're an item, despite Sherrie's fears that fame could turn Drew into a monster.
Via a roster of classic 80s rock hits, Sherrie and Drew cross paths with megastar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), who wants to break away from his band and launch a solo career, but is stuck in a major personal and creative rut.
Meanwhile, the mayor's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is on a crusade to cleanse LA of evil rock music, starting with Stacee and the Bourbon Room.
Director Adam Shankman brought a sure touch to his previous musical adaptation, Hairspray, and Rock of Ages gives him a lot more scope than, say, Chris Columbus enjoyed with the film version of Rent.
But his touch is too firm, taking an overly serious approach to what is basically lightweight material, and squeezing out some of the enjoyment as a result.
Rock of Ages (the stage show) keeps the tip of its studded tongue firmly planted in its cheek, acknowledging the self-aware cheesiness of the hair rock and glam metal scene – it's a light-hearted show (it would have to be, to put atrocities like Starship's We Built This City and syrupy power ballads alongside headbanging numbers like Cum On Feel the Noize and We're Not Gonna Take It).
Sometimes, the movie version reflects this, such as when Stacee gets it on with a Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman), or when Drew tries a new musical direction. But, mostly, Shankman and the cast treat the proceedings a bit too seriously, overdoing some of the most banal scenes ever written for a musical.
Also, even with the generous use of montages, it goes on a bit too long, while the standard of some of the replica 80s hairdos matches that of the script.
Most of the humour is handled by Paul Giamatti, as Stacee's manager, and the enjoyable double act of Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, as the Bourbon Room's owner and manager. But it's Cruise who carries the show.
Stacee's life of rock star excess is ridiculously overblown (can you recall Axl Rose or Bret Michaels having a pet baboon?), but Cruise brings a huge amount of charisma and the necessary sense of humour to the part (and takes his shirt off a lot).
While he's a good singer, he doesn't have the gloriously flamboyant wail some of the songs demand, but he has a lot of help to carry the musical load.
Rock of Ages is good fun, but not as much fun as it could (and should) be. See it, then go home, dig out the old records and recapture the spirit for real.
- © Fairfax NZ News