Starring Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta • Directed by Adam Shankman • Age restriction: 13S • Releases 6 July
I'll be honest: I've been sold on this movie for ages. Tom Cruise, singing, playing an aging rock god? Catherine Zeta-Jones back to belting it out for the cameras? Eighties rock? Count me in! In hindsight, I probably hyped this up too much for myself.
It's 1987, and small-town girl Sherrie (Footloose's Julianne Hough) moves to Los Angeles to fulfill her dream of becoming a rock star. After she is mugged – and realises that LA isn't quite the paradise she imagined – she runs into another aspiring rock star, Drew (newbie Diego Boneta) who helps her land a job at iconic rock venue The Bourbon Room. Run by rock and roll stalwart Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and his you-wouldn't-believe-how-faithful sidekick Lonny (Russell Brand), The Bourbon has come under fire from the Los Angeles mayor's holier-than-thou wife Patricia, played by a powerhouse Catherine Zeta-Jones. After it comes to light that The Bourbon hasn't been paying its taxes (They're so not rock and roll, Dennis quips), it seems that they're facing closure for sure – and can only be saved by one massive night and one massive performance by the world's biggest rock star – Stacee Jaxx.
Directed by Adam Shankman – who helmed the successful musical film Hairspray – Rock of Ages is bursting with classic rock hits from the 1980s, boasting songs from artists such as Journey, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister and REO Speedwagon. Even if you're no child of the 1980s, you'll recognise more than a handful of these – and will probably find yourself tapping your foot at least once.
Sure, it veers pretty heavily into cheesiness more than once – and seriously, after Glee killed it, it's time to retire Journey's Don't Stop Believing from pop culture. There are some great mash-ups in the soundtrack, including an awesome version of We're Not Gonna Take It/We Built This City. While the music is blasting, the movie can do very little wrong – but as soon as it tries to bring focus back to its plot and its two leads, Rock of Ages stumbles too often.
It's not very well scripted, rocketing between awesome musical numbers and moments of achingly dull discussions between Sherrie and Drew, an odd sortie into the world's most sanitised strip-club and a weird pre-1990s boy band. It's also largely devoid of any urgency: It's a predictable story, with little focus on creating real tension or moments of uncertainty.
But the biggest problem with Rock of Ages is the fact that the central love story – between aspiring rockers Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta) is pretty much like watching paint dry. They're just two (admittedly very good-looking) squeaky clean kids with zero chemistry and very little screen presence – and I found myself wanting to fast-forward through their predictably sappy scenes. One reviewer likened Hough and Boneta to a "black hole" – and seeing as they pretty much suck all of the fun out of the film, it's an apt description. They're wide-eyed, far too earnest and, honestly – just plain dull. I'd have happily sacrificed some of their scenes for a tighter focus on the rest of the gang around the Bourbon. More rock, less doe-eyes!
Meanwhile, the rest of the surprisingly A-list cast – which includes Zeta-Jones, Brand, Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, and Tom Cruise as rock icon Stacee Jaxx – throw all subtlety out the window in their various roles. Without fail, they lay on a healthy dose of cheesiness mixed with a twinkling of irony – playing their various stereotypes with massive energy and a surprising amount of fun.
Cruise is completely absorbing: an epic mix of rock-god swagger and more than a little insanity. He is – and I can't believe I'm writing this – bizarrely sexy. In a dangerous, grungy, directly-from-the-80s, yeah, he's completely mental way. And can he sing? It's a pleasant surprise – yes, he can, although I'm pretty sure he'll never head up a Broadway musical. He went for intensive vocal training for the role, and apparently nets a four-octave range – and in particular, his cover of Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive is delivered with aplomb. He proved with his Tropic Thunder character Len Grossman that he's willing to pull out all the stops and just have fun – and it serves him well here.
He plays well off love interest and Rolling Stone journalist Constance Sack (Malin Ackerman) – in fact, some of the film's best scenes come from their interaction. A completely off-the-wall interview and a sex scene on a pool table kick off their relationship – which also provides one of the most intentionally toe-curlingly awful on-screen kisses in history. Paul Giamatti is all sleaze as Stacee's manipulative manager Paul Gill – the money-grabber to Dennis' pure belief in rock and roll. Brand brings his full-on crazy to the character of Lonny, and he and Dennis provide one of the most surprising moments in the film. (Really, I won't spoil it for you, even a little).
Rock of Ages isn't for everyone. Heck, I love musicals but even I found the movie overly long and extremely bland at times. But, for the most part, it's a rocking good time, with some great musical performances and enough laughs (whether intentional or not) to make it worth the effort.
Pity the actual story nearly killed it.