REVIEW: Rock of Ages
The film version of Rock of Ages, has a whiff of cannabalism about it. First, it took a series of 1980s songs and turned them into what has been branded a jukebox musical, since originality no longer matters on Broadway. The success of the stage version – five Tony nominations indicates someone liked it – led to it being optioned for production as a feature film. Broadway used to feed Hollywood source material and the trend has been reversed as risk adverse producers look for sure things, which are not necessarily quality things.
Thus, the film version of the musical based on a disparate collection of rock tunes, which were popular as I advanced through my adult years and saw my tastes changing, means I bring a series of prejudices to watching the film on the just-released Blu-ray. First of all, I am a big fan of many performers in the cast and applaud Tom Cruise for lightening up with several of his recent performances. He’s also backed by Alec Baldwin, Malin Akerman and Paul Giamatti. I also remain fond of Julianne Hough who is a far better dancer and country singer than rocker.
As happens, the movie adaptation was seriously reworked to accommodate the cast rather than cast around the script and soundtrack. Therefore, many numbers were cut, others mashed up, and several reassigned to different characters. This results in a movie largely unrecognizable from the stage version and a lesser effort at that. What made the show edgy and fun is replaced with watered down replicas.
The basic trio of story threads has would-be rock star Sherrie (Hough), arriving in Los Angeles and meeting Drew (Diego Boneta) so you have your love story. Then there’s the Bourbon Room, a doomed club in need of a miracle story that focuses on Dennis (Baldwin) and his fight against a mob led by Catherine Zeta Jones (still sexy), trying to shut it down. His last hope is a kick ass concert from Arsenal, fronted by Stacee Jaxx (Cruise), who is on the verge of going solo. Behind the scenes, his agent, (Giamatti) gums up the works.
Rock is meant to messy and fun and frenetic with high doses of energy. The voltage one expects from the music used, from Foreigner to Pat Benatar leans closer to a Smash rendition and the wattage is cut in half, robbing the movie of the verve the material deserves. It’s not all bad such as the pool table duet between Jaxx and Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Akerman). But when you sing “I Love Rock n Roll”, you should be feeling ready to leap to your feet and dance, not check your watch.
Bad enough the core storylines are predictable as heck, but the movie telegraphs just about everything thanks to direction of Adam Shankman. None of the characters, save Jaxx, stands out, wasting plenty of potential from a stellar cast.
There are plenty of fun moments and Cruise is a revelation all over again. He rarely repeats himself and is excellent here, sabotaged by the lack of raw power around him.
You can watch the theatrical version or the extended version, with 13 more minutes of tedium. The highlight is the cut scene between Jaxx and Sherrie, as they sing “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and nearly copulate, which smolders better than the rest of the film.
The Warner Home Video release comes as a combo pack with the Blu-ray, DVD, and of course ultraviolet digital. They do a fine job transferring the film and sound to disc so it rocks as best it can.
Poison’s Bret Michaels kicks off the extras with two featurettes: “Rock of Ages: Legends of the Sunset Strip” (29:56) with real rockers Pat Benetar and Sebastian Bach, members of Styx, REO Speedwagon, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Night Ranger, Def Leppard, Winger, Whitesnake, Dokken, Foreigner, Poison, Journey, Warrant, Faster Pussycat, Vixen, Extreme and W.A.S.P. reminiscing about the rock scene in their heyday. “The Stories We Sing” (12:53) brings back many of these rock stars to discuss their inspirations for the greatest hits such as “Sister Christian,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and the perennial “Don’t Stop Believin'”. This one is well worth a look.
There’s also the eight-part “Defining a Decade” (35:34), hosted by Hough and Boleta, that displays some embarrassing awkwardness between them but they manage to take us through the production of the film. You also get a look at the Broadway inspiration which deserved more screen time.
“Any Way You Like It” was re-edited into a full music video starring Mary J. Blige and Constantine Maroulis (who originated the Drew Bolley role on Broadway) but it can be skipped.