Rock of Ages is a 80s-nostalgia filled disaster that is instantly watchable and entertaining. That might be a contradiction in terms but its unavoidable; I both loved and loathed this movie. The plot is so thin it’s transparent, the singing ranges from excellent to just below Radio Disney and the acting is just as diverse. With that, the two hour runtime never feels long. I never once looked at my watch or started asking “when will this end” although I did ask more than a few times “what am I watching.”
Sherri (Julianne Hough) is a small-town girl looking to be a singer. She gets a job at the Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip just as it’s about to be shut down by an overzealous politician’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The club puts all its hopes and dreams on a farewell performance by rock god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) which is easier said than done.
When Rock of Ages shines there’s a glimmer of a great movie, and oddly enough it comes from the performance of one of the biggest actors in the cast. Say what you will about Tom Cruise personally but he sold me with his performance of Stacee Jaxx. The role is just the right amount of camp to make him entertaining and his monologues feel like they were improvised. He’s unpredictable and Cruise goes full-tilt with his manic and insane performance to the point of performing a song right into a girl’s backside. Cruise looks like he’s having the most fun and every time he was on screen I kept wondering why the film couldn’t have been about him. Complimenting his performance is Malin Akerman as a Rolling Stone reporter who captures Jaxx’s eye. Considering the plot mirrors the romance between the younger leads it makes the latter plot seem glaringly irrelevant. Again, why couldn’t this plot take the lead? The music is also fun if you enjoy 80’s jams. With 26 songs performed there’s no time to question the plot or become bored because someone is always singing and who doesn’t love the music of Journey, Foreigner, or Twisted Sister?
Be that as it may the movie is fairly terrible. The songs are nothing less than karaoke or Glee performances with zero context. There’s no set-up of how these songs are to be performed? Will they be performances when the characters are on stage? Are they in the character’s heads a la Chicago? Nope, they just burst out into song. The first scene, literally the first two minutes, introduce Sherri looking at her records, putting on her headphones and singing “Sister Christian” with everyone on the bus with her singing along! So is she crazy? Is everyone crazy? We need context! The plot is wafer thin focusing on Sherri and her love for Drew (Diego Boneta) and that’s meant to carry us along. There’s also the plot involving Jaxx, a plot involving the politician’s wife, and a plot involving Bourbon owner Jack Dupree (Alec Baldwin). All these stories are introduced and wrapped up with little resolution outside of Jaxx’s storyline.
The rest of the cast outside of Cruise and Akerman are poorly cast, wasted, or just awful. Hough and Boneta are the blandest actors in the world between Hough’s whiny, nasally twang and stripper moves to Boneta’s Zac Efron face and CW line delivery. Boneta especially is terrible and if he never works again, it’ll be too soon. Baldwin and Zeta-Jones are just scenery with one or two songs and little else. Mary J. Blige also makes a glorified cameo playing a character so underwritten she’s just “strip club owner.”
Rock of Ages is just a poorly filmed stage show. Director Adam Shankman doesn’t know whether to make a film adaptation or a stage performance for film and mashes together both with the tact of a sledgehammer. When Jaxx performs his farewell concert it feels like the conclusion of the film not as the introduction to another hour of story so it’s an intermission. The film throws in a gay subplot that goes nowhere, a developer subplot that goes nowhere, and by the end I just wanted Cruise and nothing else.
Do I recommend Rock of Ages? Oddly yes. It’s a matinee movie; an entertaining film for musical fans or 80s lovers. Is it a good movie? Hell no. It’ll make more than a few worst-of lists but I’ll leave this review saying “it’s a fun waste of time, just don’t expect logic.”