Well, this is one silly movie. I never quite understood if I was laughing with the movie, at the movie, or if the movie was some sort of joke being pulled on me. Was I supposed to sing along?
At the opening, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) rides a bus with her headphones on listening to Sister Christian; she starts singing out loud and soon enough the entire bus joins in. Once again, was I supposed to sing along? Most of the audience laughed but didn’t join. It is understandable; in real life singing along is only acceptable if said song happened to be Bohemian Rhapsody. But in a musical film like this it could be any song. And it could have been any song for that matter; the number is not really memorable. Actually, none of the numbers are particularly memorable. But, at the very least, they do happen to zesty and entertaining while they last. With an extra punch they might have gotten someone in the audience to sing along.
Anyways, little naïve Sherrie who rides the bus and sings arrives in Hollywood to pursue her dream in rock n’ roll; she may settle for being a groupie, but hopes to make it as singer. Shortly after stepping off the bus, and before she finds a motel, Sherrie bumps into Drew (Diego Boneta), a bartender at a rock n’ roll club of the Sunset Strip. Their eyes meet, they share a musical number and fall in love at first song. It is essentially High School Musical under a different name. Unfortunately, this predictable love arch takes away form the much more original subplot regarding the fate of the club, and the much more interesting characters who run it.
The club called The Bourbon Room (played by The Whisky a Go Go), seems to be the last remaining rock n’ roll club on The Sunset Strip. To those who rock it is a reminder of a bygone era; for Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the mayor’s wife, it is a reminder of how decadent Los Angeles has become. And she isn’t gonna take it! Unfortunately for the club owner Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and manager Lonny (Russell Brand), the Bourbon Room is so loaded with tax debt that the only way they can save it is to hold one legendary concert. And who else to star in said concert than the legendary Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), an alcoholic rockstar so into himself that he might not even remember he got his first gig at The Bourbon Room.
Wait a second! This sub-plot is just as unoriginal as the one with the small town girl and the city boy falling in love. Once again, if you have seen a musical or two, you know who prevails, and it is not the politician lady who hates rock n’ roll.
Yet, despite its tremendous lack of originality, Rock of Ages entertains. And- more importantly- it never pretends to be anything else than a silly musical. They maybe singing some classics, but Rock of Ages does not stand on the shoulders of classics; it unashamedly turns them into a karaoke mix of show-tunes soon to be available on iTunes and/or sung on Glee. I have to note that there is some irony on the fact that the character on the screen, had they actually lived in the late 80s, would have vehemently objected to classic rock songs being converted into Broadway show-tunes. It makes what Lester Bangs, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Almost Famous noted even more true: “The war is over. They won... and they will ruin rock n’ roll and strangle everything we love about it”.
But everyone seems to be having such a good time, and making so much money, strangling the dream of rock n’ roll that it couldn’t have possibly be a bad thing. Can it? The actors here seem to be having a particularly good amount of fun. For the most part, they are satirizing themselves; everyone with the exception of Alec Baldwin was type casted. And Tom Cruise in particular seems to enjoy playing himself, perhaps his best performance because of it. Amazingly, Russell Brand’s character happens to be one of the most toned down on this film. Although, he does have a surprising scene with Alec Baldwin that I don’t think anyone expected. Compliments must also go to Mickey, the baboon that plays Jaxx sidekick Hey-Man. While the rest of the cast seems to be monkeying around, Mickey delivers a performance unlike any other baboon I have seen on screen.
Well, to be fair, after the disaster that was Mama Mia! when it tried to make Pierce Brosnan and Collin Firth sing I really wasn’t ready to give Tom Cruise or Alec Baldwin a chance in a musical of their own. But I was decently surprised to know that they can all hold a tune, even if it was auto-tuned. The musical numbers are still entertaining and zesty, and their production, direction, and photography are all still top-notch. The film is hard to hate, but it lacks true merit. Silliness can only take one so far as an excuse for one’s lack of originality. And it is not far enough to grant Rock of Ages anything but a passing grade.