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IN SHORT: Great sound track, if you can find a theater that will let you sing along. OTT, a terrible movie. [Rated PG-13 by the MPAA for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language. 123 minutes]
I have written elsewhere on this site that I don't particularly like musicals. Occasionally, as with a film like Chicago, I am pleasantly surprised. Up for review this time out is Rock of Ages, based on a Broadway musical that used rock radio hits of the (roughly) 1980s to supplement its story. Before the review comes a quick bit of full disclosure:
Cranky's first career was in Album Oriented Radio (aka Rock Radio) from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. I worked creating programming of various kinds for networks of up to 250 or so AOR stations, both as a production engineer and as a full-blown writer/producer. It was as varied as it was successful and I burned out by 1986. But I "worked" all of the bands featured in this film.
So I was really looking forward to screening Rock of Ages, which sets rise-of-a-new-rocker (Jon Bon Jovi with a twist) and fall-of-a-superstar-band (think David Lee Roth splitting from Van Halen) scenarios against each other on the stage of a Los Angeles club called the Bourbon Room (as opposed to the Whisky). Rock of Ages is not a A Star Is Born rehash. It is stuffed with enough radio hits that any audience member of the proper demographic, the first MTV generation -- Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Whitesnake, and so on -- will be happy just to sing along with the sound track.
That being written, the sound track is all Rock of Ages has got. The various subplots don't congeal into a flowing story. When we weren't singing along we were writhing in our seat. At its core, Rock of Ages is still a three act Broadway show, whose focus is on a boy and a girl in LA, both with stars in their eyes. Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) is just off the bus from Tulsa, Oklahoma. When we first meet her, her first steps in Los Angeles go horribly wrong. She is rescued from her plight in true knight in shining armor style by Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), a grunt worker at the hottest club on the Sunset Strip. It is called the Bourbon Room, as opposed to the real life Whisky, whose owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and manager Lonny (Russell Brand) aren't keen on adding new staff, but they've got turnover so Sherrie is in.
Drew, it seems, has star dreams, too. He says he is hampered by an overwhelming stage fright -- it will last about three seconds once he eventually gets his big break -- and he is so love struck at first site by the lovely Sherrie that he writes her a song. [so add Journey to the list of covered acts, above]
Meanwhile, at the Bourbon . . . is a rocker named Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), whose departure from the band Arsenal -- think David Lee Roth and Van Halen -- is imminent. Arsenal's debut was at the Bourbon. It's sayonara will be there too, the gate receipts of which will save the club's tail. It's a year behind on taxes owed to the City of Angels.
That debt is important since a full blown mayoral campaign is underway and the wife of the current mayor (Catherine Zeta-Jones as Patricia Whitmore) has set her sites on take the Bourbon down and cleaning up the "filthy rock n roll traffic" on the Sunset Strip. The script avoids making a direct connection to born again Christians who took aim at rock, particularly glam rock, in the 1980s, but the plot surprise it tries to hide is obvious from the word 'go'. No, it is not that her hubby the mayor (Bryan Cranston) is cheating on her.
Then there is Rolling Stone magazine reporter Constance Sack (Malin Ackerman), at the Bourbon to do a cover story about Jaxx. Rolling Stone comes across poorly in this movie; it's "serious" reporter comes across as no better than a groupie (and her scene plays out as such. The screenplay is so terrible that the casting and performance of the very lovely Ackerman wrecks any attempt as coming off as "serious" journalist. Sherrie's budding love with Drew is destroyed because of Jaxx' encounter with Sack and she (Sherrie) falls out of the Bourbon Room and into a strip club managed by Justice Charlier (Mary J Blige)
Then the film careens into it grand finale, as Jaxx' manager manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) signs Drew and develops the boy's career into the next big thing. What that "next big thing" happens to be is so horrific I will not reveal it here. But it does involve Drew and Jaxx and Sherri and a big, give it all you got finish . . .
Oh this movie never ends. It goes on and on and on and on.
On the positive side, Tom Cruise can sing. So do the other leads, with Alec Baldwin's ragged tenor being appropriate for a nearly broken, middle aged club manager. The only clever parts of this film come when it assigns songs to different characters and those songs serve as dialog, playing off each other: Foreigner's "Jukebox Hero" with Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" or Jefferson Starship's "We Built This City" with Def Leppard's "We're Not Gonna Take It" and a couple more.
You can buy the individual song performances from iTunes. Your money is best spent there.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Rock of Ages, he would have paid . . .
$2 for the cheapest rental you can get -- if you must -- plus a buck for the sound track. Rock of Ages is a singalong film at best. At best, it should be marketed as a midnight movie, audience singing encouraged.
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