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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Rock of Ages | Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Tom Cruise, Malin Ackerman | Review

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Rock of Ages

By Judy Thorburn

Back in the 1980's Pat Benatar sang “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”.  Little did I know the opportunity would eventually arise for me to take aim, not at her, but at director Adam Shankman's (Hairspray) sloppy screen adaptation of Chris D'Arienzo's Broadway hit Rock of Ages.  So here goes.

Rock of Ages boasts an enthusiastic all star cast, some of the top rock and roll hits of the 1980s from Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Poison, Whitesnake and others.  What's the problem? For starters, how about the fact that those hits are wrapped around a weak, unoriginal script by D'Arienzo, Justin Theroux and Alan Loeb.  Been there, seen that story or variations on it so many times, I could gag.  You know the overused formula where boy meets girl, boy loses girl due to a misunderstanding and/or interference by religious fanatics, sideline characters and events. The storylines of Footloose and Hairspray featured similar plot devices but the delivery was a whole lot better.

Set in 1987, Rock of Ages begins with the blossoming romance between Sherrie (Julianne Hough) a pretty, small town girl from Oklahoma and cute city boy Drew (newcomer, Diego Boneta), each an aspiring singer with dreams of achieving stardom in Hollywood.  The pair meet after she arrives by bus on the Sunset Strip.  When Sherrie has her suitcase and money stolen Drew comes to her rescue by helping her land a job as a waitress at the same place he works, the Bourbon Room, a rock concert venue and bar run by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin in a long haired wig) and his technician Lonnie (Russell Brand doing his typical, outrageous comedy shtick). The Bourbon is in a financial crisis and Dennis hopes that presenting a concert featuring, self obsessed, spaced out, undependable rock superstar Stacee Jaxx (a tattooed, bare-chested, bandana wearing Tom Cruise, channeling a beefier Axl Rose) in his last performance with his band before going solo, will save the club from going under.

Meanwhile, other subplots revolve around the Mayor's wife, Patricia (a way over the top, hammy performance by Catherine Zeta Jones) a radical conservative on a mission to clean up the strip and close down the “sinful” joint and its “filthy” music; a Rolling Stones reporter named Constance Sack (Malin Ackerman in a curly wig and big eyeglasses) eager to land an interview with Saxx and expose him for who he truly is; and Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) Saxx's slimy, conniving manager. Filling smaller supporting roles are Bryan Cranston as Mayor Whitmore, Patricia's  unfaithful, secretly kinky hubby and Mary J. Blige as the mother hen of Venus, a local strip club where Sherrie winds up after her break up with Drew.  Also Eli Roth and Kevin Nash make brief cameo appearances. Plus, you need to keep an eye out for 80's chart topper Debbie Gibson and rocker Sebastian Bach, who can be seen for a moment among the crowd of street protesters.

The entire cast appears to be having a great time and a few even show off some surprising vocal abilities (especially Cruise) when belting out well known hits from the 80's.  However, a big disappointment is Mia Michaels' lackluster, uninventive choreography that doesn't cut it. I am familiar with her work and here there is no sign of the brilliance she displayed in creating those amazing dance routines performed by the finalists on Fox TV's So You Think You Can Dance.

With so many sideline characters and subplots moving back and forth from one to the next, the disjointed film lacks cohesiveness by not focusing on the main characters and we are left with a few loose ends.   What's more, some of the scenes, whether meant to be campy or just plain funny, are too ridiculous, silly, and even at times, embarrassing.

If you are a fan of the music, and are willing to sit through the musical knowing you will have to zone out all the nonsense in between the songs, then I suppose, Rock of Ages will suffice as a tribute to 80's hard rock.

I never got to see the Broadway show, but a stage version is set to open at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas at the end of the year.  I am hoping for an exciting musical experience unlike this disappointing film, and I won't settle for anything less.

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