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December 9, 2012

5

Rock of Ages

by Franz Patrick


Rock of Ages (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Sherrie (Julianne Hough) leaves Oklahoma for Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming a singer. Her romantic view of the city, however, is tarnished as soon as she arrived when her suitcase full of favorite rock records is stolen. Drew (Diego Boneta), who works for The Bourbon Room located on Sunset Strip, witnesses the whole thing and informs the country girl that there might be a waitressing job for her given that someone had just quit her post. Meanwhile, Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston), recently voted mayor, and his wife, Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), plan to implement the “Clean Up the Strip” movement, eliminating the purported negative influence of so-called satanic rock n’ roll, starting with The Bourbon.

Based on the screenplay by Justin Thereoux, Chris D’Arienzo, and Allan Loeb, “Rock of Ages” is a toothless musical with great classic rock songs under its belt but held back by underwhelming renditions, a boring central couple so devoid of inspiration and chemistry that they might as well have been taken right out of a television show doomed for cancellation in five episodes or less, and subplots that tease but never actually deliver.

It seems as though the writing is built around the cover songs which is almost never a good idea. Instead of engaging us in a flow as the story follows a clear path while learning surprising discoveries about people who consider rock music as their religion, the pacing is distractingly episodic and often desultory. The script gives neither time nor room for the characters to grow in a natural and believable way which makes every important change that they must eventually undergo feel like a sham.

While Hough and Boneta is a physically attractive couple on screen, I had no idea why the writers thought it was a good idea to have teenagers sing these songs other than the fact that they wished to appeal to the 12-21 demographic. The pair looks foolish singing the songs because their characters are supposed to radiate cotton candy youthful verve but the songs they sing often have a certain mature angst coursing through them. Because of the polarity between characterization and song choices, it isn’t convincing that they really know what they are singing about. Instead, they come off too cutesy and trying too hard.

The same assessment can be applied to the characters who treat rock n’ roll as a disease that must be expunged. If they consider rock music evil, then why are they expressing their anger and frustration through the genre they claim to abhor? It doesn’t make sense. This could have been circumvented if the writers have been less lazy, eliminating the “good versus bad” mentality altogether, and construct a story worth telling and thinking about. The classic songs that the picture attempts to tackle have lasted through the years for a reason. While most of them are supremely catchy, they are memorable because there’s something about the songs that people across generations find relatable.

The film is at its best when it isn’t afraid to get down and dirty. I loved (and feared) Stacee Jaxx because he is a specific character played to devilish perfection by Tom Cruise. It is difficult to read the man underneath the rock god persona because he is either drowning in alcohol or blinded by the possibility of having sex with women. And yet, once or twice he is given a chance to express that maybe he’s smarter and more caring than he lets on. In this instance, the contradiction works because not only is the actor given the material and time to develop his character, he is willing to take risks in order to challenge our expectations. Hence, when he sings soulful and angry songs, he doesn’t look like a fool: he is able to transport us to the film’s 1987 milieu.

Directed by Adam Shankman, “Rock of Ages” suffers greatly from a lack of ambition by the casting agents and writers. What’s supposed to be celebratory material feels like a dirge that lasts for over two hours.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dec 9 2012

    Franz,

    you raise an important point about this execrable movie when you say that “[i]t seems as though the writing is built around the cover songs which is almost never a good idea.” The leads lack even a hint of on-screen chemistry, the plotting is slow to the point of suffocation and the musical numbers are at best uninspired and obvious, at worst utterly confounding and/or unintentionally hilarious (that never-ending number when she arrives on Broadway had me burst out laughing. I didn’t even realize she was singing until it was nearly over). This probably also helps explain the cartoonish villainy of the anti-rock characters, a staple of the rock stage musical genre. What works on stage won’t necessarily work on screen, unless the movie surrounding these characters keeps up with them. For me, this illustrates why Catherine Zeta-Jones fell flat here, while I was thrilled with, among others, Michelle Pfeiffer, in Shankman’s adaptation of “Hairspray”.

    In closing: I kept comparing Cruise’s arena rock parody (unfavorably) to Jason Lee in “Almost Famous”. And wow, what an awful movie year this has been for Bryan Cranston! I mean, “John Carter”, “Total Recall” AND “Rock of Ages”? Ouch. (I haven’t had the chance to see “Argo” yet.)

    Reply
  2. Dec 9 2012

    I agree with you about the things you mentioned (with the exception of Tom Cruise which I’ll get to in a bit). I was going to talk about Zeta-Jones but I had felt I had to cut the review because I was running too long. She is one of the weaker links (but not as bad Hough and Boneta) because she has had experience with musicals so I expected more from her. But when I look at the big picture, it’s hard to blame her because not much thought is put into the material in the first place. At least she exaggerated to create a semblance of personality in her character (unlike the main couple) even though it still fell flat. Ultimately, I believe the filmmakers are going for FUN but the script lacks the imagination to create something special and worthwhile.

    As for Tom Cruise, I thought he was the best thing about the movie. I thought his scenes with Malin Akerman were great and I laughed when they got too close physically. They were just so awkward together but I believed that they could be attracted to one another. There were times when I thought I was watching a real drugged up rock star instead of a movie star. Having said that, unlike yourself, I didn’t compare his performance to others because I was too busy trying to understand what his character is about underneath the glam.

    Reply
  3. Dec 10 2012

    This film was really bad…nice review.

    Reply
  4. Dec 11 2012

    There’s definitely a weird combination of cutesy G rated shenanigans mixed with R rated sexual desire. It’s an odd mix.

    I wrote my review as a letter to the director on how to improve his film. Ha ha.

    Reply

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