Small town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and city boy Drew (Diego Boneta) meet on the Hollywood Strip. They have dreams of stardom, but must pay their dues working in the famous Bourbon Room where they encounter each other, adversity and take a step toward fame.
From that synopsis, Rock of Ages sounds as though it is a LA version of Fame, but there is a bit more and a little less to it than that. The Bourbon Room faces closure and the only thing keeping Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) from closing the bar is the upcoming gig by Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). That said, Rock of Ages becomes more about celebrating 80s hair metal than the story of the film.
Some of the characters are well developed and rounded, but others – like Sherrie and Drew – seem to have been inserted into the story just to keep the film moving forward. That’s fine, but when the most interesting characters are the supporting ones, the film suddenly changes from being a musical with a story to a collection of – admittedly fun – songs.
Tom Cruise is the actor that everyone seems to be talking about in the film. The good news is that Cruise seems to have developed a sense of humour about himself and has no problem playing a weird and over the top character. The problem, however, is that Stacee Jaxx is the closest thing we have to a developed and interesting protaganist in the film and he comes off as – pardon the pun – one note. The good news is that Tom Cruise can sing a lot better than anyone thought he could and his interactions with Rolling Stone journalist Constance (Malin Ackerman) and his manager Paul (Paul Giamatti) are brilliant.
Catherine Zeta Jones returns to the genre that won her an Oscar and her version of Hit Me With Your Best Shot is a reminder to audiences of her strength as a performer. It’s just a shame that she looks like she has had work done, which is a little distracting. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand play the owner and manager of The Bourbon Room, respectively, and they seem to have had a lot of fun making the film. The chemistry between the two is strong, and it is no surprise when they confess their love for one another using REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight This Feeling. Neither one are particularly strong singers – and Brand’s accent leaps around England – but their energy is a joy to watch. As well as this, Paul Giamatti is fantastically campy and over the top as sleaze ball manager Paul and his ‘fight’ with Jaxx’s pet monkey Hey Man is great.
Once the story has been established, the songs take over and by the second half of the film the dialogue serves merely to introduce the songs, rather than to inform the songs and form a complete package. This is a shame because the soundtrack is filled with 80s hair metal classics such as Wanted Dead or Alive, I Wanna Rock and Don’t Stop Believin’, but the way the film is set up means that the final act turns into music videos stitched together to give the semblance of a story instead of a rounded and engaging tale.
In all, Rock of Ages is a fantastic example of a Jukebox Musical and contains some great moments – Brand and Zeta Jones’s version of We Built This City comes to mind – and some brilliant songs, but the film suffers from a lack of dialogue and some uninspiring performances.