In this big screen adaptation of the rock jukebox Broadway show Rock of Ages, not even a team of seasoned actors can bring any originality to this film. Fortunately, they seem to embrace the derivative nature of this material, including allusions—intended or otherwise—to other musicals and films. Rock of Ages try to camp up rock & roll as much as possible, but their efforts fall flat.
Sherrie (Julianne Hough) walks off the bus and belts a “Good Morning, Baltimore” anthem to commemorate finally making it to the flashy world of Hollywood—shortly before being mugged. Fortunately, she falls right into the beautiful arms of Drew (Diego Boneta) who is a barback at the struggling legendary rock & roll bar The Bourbon Room. The Bourbon is run by washed-up Dennis (Alec Baldwin—the only actor in the film with the ability to say the cheesy dialogue with a straight face) and Lonny (Russell Brand, who plays the comedic British sidekick perfectly). Drew dreams of being a rock god like Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) who is coincidentally performing there that weekend. Sherrie convinces Dennis to let Drew be the opening act, and that evening many dreams are made but also broken.
After believing he saw Sherrie hook up with the drunken Stacee, Drew gives the ultimate performance, which mostly consists of him screaming the word “Rock!” over and over again. Sleazeball manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti), the only true villain in this romp, quickly signs Drew as a client; but he merely proceeds to ruin Drew’s hopes of a career by pursuing the boy band craze—the 90s are right around the corner, after all. Sherrie’s fate is no less tragic. She stumbles into the burlesque club Venus Room run by Justice Charlier (Mary J. Blige) and gives her best Ali-in-Burlesque speech about how she’s a singer not a dancer. Yet after a few weeks of working as a waitress in a Xanadu outfit, Sherrie puts on a scandalous outfit and joins the other girls on the pole.
The plot never fails to be basic and predictable, but some fast editing makes even the dullest of moments flash by with the strum of an electric guitar. None of the musical numbers provide any nuance to these overplayed songs, and some of them are even offensive (I’m referring to the homosexual number). And despite being choreographed by Mia Michaels, the choreography in the film is equally uninteresting.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is thrown into the mix as the uptight religious conservative who has a trumped-up vendetta against Stacee. She knows how to overplay her character and provide a few laughs (and an homage to Evita’s V arm gesture). Bryan Cranston plays her seedy political husband, but makes no effort to make him interesting. Malin Akerman, too, fails to bring any life to her Rolling Stones journalist who falls for the infamous Stacee Jaxx on whom she is writing a story.
Tom Cruise provides the only nuanced performance in the film by underplaying his rock god character and making him two-dimensional. He puts as much soul as he can into this caricature of a rock star; but when the script requires campier moments, Cruise feels out of place.
If there is a theme here then it is the same one that lurks beneath Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love and it involves the price of fame. Both films explore the ups and downs involved with becoming famous, but both fail to teach any form of lesson. Rock of Ages is good for a mindless afternoon vacation into the glitzed-up world of rock & roll but that’s about all.