Rock of Ages
Now playing at Scotiabank
Get out your crimping iron and Aqua Net hairspray: Rock of Ages, the much-touted big-screen adaptation of the hit stage musical, is ready to rock your world… sort of.
Hairspray’s Adam Shankman directs this tale, a karaoke sing-along dream guaranteed to flood the radio airwaves with big-haired rock ballads.
It’s 1987, and with a suitcase stuffed with LPs and big dreams, Sherrie from Tulsa (Footloose’s Julianne Hough) gets off the bus in Hollywood and within a few blocks has both a job and a date. Drew (newcomer Diego Boneta) shepherds her to The Bourbon Room, a hard-rockin’ club run by aging rocker Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin). Dennis needs a waitress but is reluctant to hire Sherrie, sensing a frustrated singer. “You’ve practically got mic burn on your lips,” he observes.
The club is in trouble. L.A. mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his Tipper Gore-inspired wife (a game Catherine Zeta-Jones, resurrecting her Chicago moves) have promised to clean up the strip, and Patty holds vigil outside the club with a group of similarly clad, polyester-pantsuit church moms. Dennis’s loyal sidekick (Russell Brand) holds a counter-protest, leading to a “We’re Not Gonna Take It”/ “We Built This City (On Rock and Roll)” mash-up. (I guess no one told them that the Starship song earned “worst single ever” from Blender magazine.)
And financially, the only thing that can save The Bourbon Room is a sell-out crowd for Arsenal’s frontman Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), a Rock God whose entourage includes a leather-clad monkey and his shady manager (Paul Giamatti). His songwriting skills long since exhausted, Stacee’s only remaining talent is unbuckling his rhinestone codpiece for anything with a pulse. (Ladies, get out those Bedazzlers!)
No Risky Business tighty-whities for Cruise: we are introduced to his G-stringed derriere (in chaps) before we meet the man himself. Cruise (who reportedly doesn’t drink) has a field day playing to a perpetually pissed, tattooed, fur-clad rock-star-train-wreck stereotype: another notch in his seeming quest to kill his nice-guy persona (Magnolia, Tropic Thunder). He belts out “Wanted: Dead or Alive” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me” with surprising vocal precision.
Hough and Boneta are decent singers but aren’t convincing as a couple; Shankman’s John Travolta (in drag) and Christopher Walken shared more chemistry. The brother-sister vibe between the two makes a make-out montage feel a little creepy. But Hough is cute enough to win us over, and nails the pole-dancing when her dreams inevitably take a downward turn. Wait: a big-haired blond who gets off a bus in Hollywood and ends up working in a strip club? Everyone laughed when Christina Aguilera did it in Burlesque; at least she had the pipes to belt out the tunes.
Mary J. Blige enters briefly as a sympathetic strip club owner. Also in the mix is Malin Akerman as the Rolling Stone reporter who might just be Stacee’s salvation, though she strips down to her panties just as quickly as the rocker’s groupies do.
The story is cobbled together in between musical numbers featuring the music of Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Twisted Sister, Poison and Whitesnake, among others. But for anyone who has watched the musical mash-ups of Glee, the big “Don’t Stop Believin’” finale will feel oh-so two seasons ago.
Too long for what it is—could we have less of the freaky monkey, please?—Rock of Ages is a lot like that ’80s hairdo: furiously backcombed in the hopes of attracting attention, it can’t help but fall limp by night’s end.