There is much that is unprecedented about Rock of Ages. Few other multi-million dollar musicals with what passes for an "all star cast" could boast that their best acting performance is given by a baboon. None would lay claim to having two leading actresses both take inspiration from Farrah-Fawcett Majors, fully delivering on the promises made by their blank, plastic faces, spouting unspeakably banal dialogue in as expressionless a manner as possible. Certainly no other mainstream feature has done as much to resurrect homophobia. Taking an unexpected turn into the camp midway through its indeterminable running time, Rock of Ages serves up Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as the cinema's least likely gay lovers. It's truly revolting.
Of course most people brave enough to pay good money to see this abomination have had their interest piqued at the prospect of seeing Tom Cruise as a fading rock star. With precious little competition outside of his character's simian sidekick the couch-jumping scientologist does indeed reveal a slightly different side of himself, a cross between his misogynist Magnolia self-help guru and Jon Bon Jovi. Given that the part requires him to lie all over women 20 years his junior - at one point even singing directly into the crotch of a would-be paramour - Cruise enjoys himself. It's a shame that his rapidly dwindling fanbase cannot say the same thing.
There are an embarrassment of show business cliches: naive country hicks come to the big city in search of fame and fortune; a long standing club is forced with foreclosure, the victim of changing times and hypocritical, conservative politicians and aspiring singers get big breaks when scheduled acts pull out at the last moment. Even those relatively new to musicals would note that exactly the same story lines featured in last year's tame ode to tame striptease, Burlesque. Those with a longer term perspective on the genre will be aware that these plot elements have been around at least since 1933's 42nd St.
Director Adam Shankman and three credited writers fail to shape this material into anything that might approximate engaging entertainment. The script is all over the place, burdened with a multiplicity of dull characters and a shifting dramatic focus that ensures that no one of them has a chance to engender audience sympathy. The cause isn't helped in the casting, either. Newcomers Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta are no stars-in-the-making. Looking about 12, with all the charisma of a block of concrete and an emotional range to match, the best you can say about Hough and Boneta is that Katy Perry's former squeeze makes them look good. Has there ever been a more inept screen thespian than Russell Brand?
I was just grateful that I have no nostalgic attachment to the soft rock anthems the film butchers and betrays. Burdened by ugly, nonsensical choreography that makes even veterans like Catherine Zeta-Jones look bad, Rock of Ages will send fans of awful 80s music back to their vinyl and cassette tapes, less to relive the past than to get the sound of wretched cover versions out of their heads.
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