Up all night! Sleep all day! Ahh, the life of a rock star. Or, in the film Rock of Ages, the life of rock singers, fans and the folks that own the places you go to get your rock on. This film delivers all the spectacle and shine of 80s rock-n-roll with an all-star cast that may play fast and loose with the storyline but never holds back on talent or entertainment. Is it Glee with AquaNet? Yeah, but that’s not a bad thing. This film makes me wanna whip out the denim mini and tease up my hair (oh who am I kidding; I never needed to tease, as I’m a natural born frizzball.) Never thought I’d say this, but damn I miss the 80s.
It’s 1987 and Sherrie Christian is just a small-town girl, livin’ in…Oklahoma. Til she decides to hop on a bus and head to LA. Her precious record collection is stolen from her almost immediately, but a hunky barkeep named Drew comes to her aid. He also gets her a job at The
Whiskey Bourbon Room, “the” place for rock-n-roll on the LA strip. Unfortunately, new mayoral candidate Mike Whitmore wants to clean up the strip, and his wife Patricia is just the gal to do it. Before you can say Tipper Gore, Patricia is out picketing with her bible groupies. Meanwhile, the Bourbon Room’s owner Dennis is setting up for the biggest concert of his club’s history; the final show from Arsenal, whose batshit crazy lead singer Stacee Jaxx is about to launch a solo career. Can Sherrie and Drew find love with all this going on? Uh, this is based on a Broadway musical, do you think they’ll let you down?
Though Drew and Sherrie’s love story is the front-n-center storyline, I kept wanting to sweep it aside to get more Stacee Jaxx. ‘Cause let’s be for real; big bombastic 80s rockers are awesome. This is the Stacee Jaxx Show, and everything else is just icing. As Jaxx, Tom Cruise blows it out of the water. He plays Jaxx as a guy so into navel-gazing that it’s hard for him to do much else. But beyond the monkey and other crazy green room shenanigans (I kept looking for a bowl of green M&Ms), Cruise does something else; he gives Jaxx a heart and soul. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Alec Baldwin said “‘I thought I knew a lot about acting, but I know nothing about acting now that I’m looking at [Tom Cruise]”. Some questioned whether Cruise could pull off a rock god, but the same thing was said (even by me) when he was tapped to play Lestat in Interview With The Vampire. He was brilliant in that role, and he’s brilliant here. And baby, you ain’t lived ‘til you’ve seen Cruise in assless chaps with a rhinestone-covered demon-head codpiece/g-string. Yes, I’m serious.
To be fair, all the actors in Rock of Ages give it their all. My favorite second-string player (because let’s face it, everyone in this film is second-string to Cruise’s Jaxx), is Malin Ackerman as Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack. At first buttoned up, she soon lets her hair down , literally and figuratively. Her performance here has me dying to see what she’ll do as Debbie Harry in Randall Miller’s CBGB. As slimeball manager Paul Gill, Paul Giamatti is so gleefully avaricious you can almost see the dollar signs in his eyes. Gill is all kinds of receding-hairline-with-a-ponytail, bolo-tie-wearing skeezy, and Giamatti’s performance seems effortless (as it always does; he’s an actor that never disappoints.) Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Patricia as a barely buttoned-up reactionary, a perfect compliment to Bryan Cranston’s lecherous hypocrite Whitmore. It’s also good to see Cranston bust out the humor he did so well in Malcom in the Middle.
As the young lovers that form the central (and honestly most uninteresting) storyline of the film, Julianne Hough shows that she’s more than ready to shed the “Dancing With The Stars” descriptive and be called an actress. At the beginning of the film I feared her soft, lilting voice wouldn’t be up to the task of belting out some rockin’ lyrics, but she soon gets into the swing of things, belting it out with Mary J. Blige. And honey, if you can keep up with Miss Blige, you’re doing alright. Diego Boneta’s Drew often gets lost amid the bombast of other characters — he’s playing alongside Alec Baldwin after all — but Boneta gives a sweet, heartfelt performance. As owner of the Venus Club, Mary J. Blige not only sings up a storm, she’s a hard lady with a heart of gold that doesn’t come off like a cliche. Bonus points for amazing costuming and hair for her, giving her the look of a just-off-the-stage Gloria Gaynor. Alec Baldwin seems to love playing club-owner Dennis Dupree, and he’s got the overgrown pageboy with ripped denim look down pat. As Dennis’ right hand man Lonny, Russell Brand is hilarious and well…looks like Russell Brand. Brand almost always looks like he’s just stepped out of Motley Crue’s green room anyway, so I’m guessing it was only a matter of slapping on a shag wig & calling it a day.
Director Adam Shankman takes a crazy, all-over-the-place story and manages to keep it coherent for the most part (and when it’s not, you’re too busy enjoying the wild musical performances and choreography to care. Example: the cut-away frenzy/amazeballs staging of “Any Way You Want It”.) Yes, Shankman did The Pacifier. But he’s also done Hairspray, the short film Prop 8: The Musical, and he choreographed one of my all-time favorite things ever; the episode “Once More With Feeling” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So why don’t we just let a little Vin Diesel babysitting slide, shall we? Alrighty then.
My only sadface moment was during “I Can’t Fight This Feeling”, a song sung by Baldwin and Brand. Is it fun? Yes. But it’s sung with such a heavy dose of “this is hilarious because we’re so unbelievably straight in real life, get it?” that it landed on me like lead. Cruise and Akerman’s hilariously hardcore makeout session to “I Wanna Know What Love Is” was a much better and funnier way to wink at the over-the-top world of 80s rock ballads.
For fans of 80s rock, check out cameos by Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin, Night Ranger’s Joel Hoekstra and Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt. And hey, is that Lita Ford over there? No; it’s Debbie Gibson. Yeah that’s right, Debbie Gibson. Rockin’ y’all.
Mmm, the world of 80s rock-n-roll. Is there anything in modern culture that is quite so mythic? This movie gets it all out to you, the good, the bad and the crazy. Paul Stanley of KISS often asked at the end of their concerts if the crowd got their money’s worth. With Rock of Ages, will you get your money’s worth? Hell yeah. Rock on.