There was a time when Musicals ruled the box office and award shows. Singing in the Rain. West Side Story. The Sound of Music. Caberet. These were not only Hollywood gold as far as raking in the money but they also raked in the Oscars. In recent years, the Musical has seemed to have hit a bunch of flat notes. They don't come out that often and when they do, they're not very good. Rock of Ages is here in all its '80s campy glory to continue the pattern of recent years.
Based on the Tony-nominated Broadway show, it takes place in 1987 at a ficticious rock club in LA during a time when Hair Metal was king and certain self righteous religious groups were trying to shut it down. Great premise for a musical but unfortunately it's just filled with actual songs from the era that we've all heard a million times. Juke Box Musicals are shows that feature all previously released songs as its musical score. In other words, in my opinion, it's the laziest form of musical art.
I'm not sure if I hated this movie because it was a bad film or because it's a bad musical. I didn't see it on stage but I can't imagine it was very good. In an age where every primetime hour of television is filled with singing reality competitions that feature pop/rock songs from the '70s and '80s, a show like this is as entertaining as those shows are; especially when you consider that it involved none of the clever re-imagining that Moulin Rogue did. If you loved "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey, for example, then you're in luck because you'll hear it just as it was when it was released in 1981.
To top it all off, the film is casted with actors that seem like they were cast on a dare. Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, Russel Brand and Tom Cruise round out the cast that sing like an average night at a celebrity karoke bar. The only cast member that shines is Tom Cruise who plays the fictiously legendary rocker Stacey Jaxx. Cruise seems like he revels in the freedom to act like an egotistical, sex addicticted alcoholic. Shockingly, he also is a decent singer. He's the best and only thing to watch in the film.
I want to give director Adam Shankman the benefit of the doubt of polishing a turd as best he could, but his resume of Hairspray, A Walk to Remember and Bedtime Stories says that I shouldn't. Everything about the film screams cliche and dull. Nothing about it works the way I'm sure it was intended to and the only scene that is actually really enjoyable is a totally random duet between Baldwin and Brand that feels more like an SNL skit than a number from a musical. Shankman also made the mistake of casting Diego Boneta (Pretty Little Liars, 90210) and Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars, Footloose) as his leads. These two have as much chemistry as a history class and can sing just as bad as the other non-professional singers, which makes them being cast as the leads a total mystery.
I imagine that if you're a fan of the musical, you'll enjoy this film. Could someone who isn't a fan of the stage show love this movie? I don't see how they could. It's not half as fun as a film making fun and paying homage to the '80s should be. The music is great but that's because it's all #1 hits that we already loved but loved when they were sang better by the bands that wrote them. Rock of Ages is a film that will be forgotten, which is a shame that so many will never know how great Tom Cruise is in it. You're better off plugging your iPod in and jamming out to your '80s playlist. Rock of Ages (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: D+