ROCK OF AGES (Dir. Adam Shankman, 2012)
When I think of great ‘80s rock, I think of R.E.M., The Replacements, The Pixies, Hüsker Dü, Psychedelic Furs, The Cure, The Smiths, et al.
The bands whose music (sung by the cast) makes up the soundtrack of this movie - Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Journey, Poison, Guns N' Roses, Def Leopard - were the commercial sell-out arena rock enemies to me.
Over time, I started to appreciate some of the output of the latter contingent, but in an ironic way. I wouldn’t listen to this music on my own, but it sure sounded good when it blasted out of Tony Soprano’s stereo.
For a bit of the screen time of ROCK OF AGES, which is based on the 2006 Broadway musical, the gimmick of ‘80s power-ballad-anthems being sung by stars like Tom Cruise (as a very Axl Rose-ish rock star), Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Russell Brand, is comically enjoyable.
But before it even got to the half-hour mark, I was more than a little hair metal-ed out.
I can’t complain that the film is cheesy, garish, and utterly ridiculous because it’s purposely packaged to be that way. The cliché-ridden plot is by design too - small town girl (Julianne Hough) comes to LA to become a singer, and meets a city boy (Diego Boneta) - yes, just like the Journey lyrics - and they pine for fame while working at a popular club, the Bourbon Room, which is in danger of being shut down because of unpaid taxes.
Of the cast, only Cruise, who swaggers through the movie, stands out (everybody, especially Baldwin is just peddling their same old shtick), but he’s not given much of a character. In a movie like this, I know that doesn’t matter; it only matters that Cruise can sing.
But the concept’s charm is diluted by the numbing overabundance of ‘80s music video tropes, and whatever fun I was supposed to be having was gets buried under noisy annoying mash-ups like when Zeta-Jones’ Tipper Gore-esque character (whose back story is instantly guessable) and her Christian cronies sing Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” while Brand and the Bourbon Room crowd respond with Starship’s “We Built This City.”
Director Shankman, did a much better job with handling the music and choreography in HAIRSPRAY a few years back. But much like that film, ROCK OF AGES looks like a over-lit television show - it’s not cinematic looking at all. Shankman has had his hand in directing a few episodes of Glee (go figure - he did the “Rocky Horror” one), so that’s no surprise.
All of this would be easier to take if it didn’t run for over 2 hours (okay, only 3 minutes over, but still).
Maybe if they cut most of the crappy dialogue out and kept it to the length of a mix CD (80 min.), then folks not partial to this music, like me, wouldn’t get so unbearably overpowered by the excess of icky ‘80s power-ballad-anthems on glitzy display.
Actually, even then, this would be pretty hard going.