LITTLE ROCK With Rock of Ages, director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) achieves something that seems like a minor miracle. He makes a lively, consistently entertaining film that blends two seemingly incompatible art forms: a Broadway musical and ’80s rock ’n’ roll.
The primal energy of the latter seems incompatible with the finesse of the former. But playwright Chris D’Arienzo managed to wrap a delightfully frothy love story around Foreigner, Journey, REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar tunes.
Few of the tunes in Rock of Ages can be considered classics, but they make an ideal excuse to set up some delightfully quirky characters, snappy banter and jaw-dropping dance numbers. Perhaps the members of Journey missed their calling when they went into arena rock instead of show tunes.
Shankman, D’Arienzo and his co-screenwriters Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) and Allan Loeb manage to take a boilerplate take on rebellion (which seems like an oxymoron doesn’t it?) and manage to make it seem as lively as it is cliched. Julianne Hough (the remake of Footloose) stars as Sherrie Christian, an Oklahoma girl who has headed to Los Angeles in the hope of making a career out of her lovely singing voice. Naturally, she gets mugged shortly after she gets out of the vehicle.
Helping her out is another struggling singer named Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), who makes his living at the legendary Bourbon Room club. Drew persuades the establishment’s struggling owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his scruffy British sidekick Lonny (who else but Russell Brand?) to give Sherrie a job waiting tables.
The Bourbon Room may have launched Arsenal, the biggest band in ’80s rock, but the club owes a year’s worth of back taxes, and Dennis finds himself dependent on the whims of the group’s volatile lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise).
Stacee can easily fill a house and work a crowd, if he bothers to show up. Played with appropriate gusto by Cruise, Jaxx stammers in incomplete sentences like a Twilight character, when he isn’t staggering to the stage or interacting with groupies or a baboon (this critter deserves an Oscar nod).
It’s preordained that Sherrie and Drew will be an item, and Hough and Boneta are appropriately naive. Essentially, these two folks with pretty voices provide a suitable framework for a terrific supporting cast. Bryan Cranston and Catherine Zeta-Jones are a riot as a hypocritical power couple who want to close down the Bourbon Room to cut down on the filth of heavy metal (but that’s the best part!) and build something “lucrative and practical” like a Benetton store.
Good luck with that.
Paul Giamatti is slick as Stacee’s amoral but long-suffering manager, and Malin Akerman demonstrates some formidable comedy chops as a reporter who has trouble dealing with her crush on Stacee.
Through it all, Shankman finds just the right tongue-in cheek tone to keep the film from ever lumbering, and he has a lot to teach the makers of Glee on how to stage musical numbers. Zeta-Jones’ ferocious rendition of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” is worth the price of admission, and watching Baldwin and Brand dueting to “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” is the most fun a person can have without injecting the chemicals that fuel rock ’n’ roll.
John Mellencamp once lamented that people with pretty voices should not be singing rock ’n’ roll but should instead warble Pepsi commercials. Perhaps he should add musical revues to that small list.
Rock of Ages
89 Cast: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Tom Cruise, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige Director: Adam Shankman Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language Running time: 123 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 06/15/2012
Print Headline: Rock of Ages