- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by David Medsker
ock of Ages” feels like one of those movies that studio executives keep hidden in their vaults and only pull out at stag parties, a work of excess and wrongheadedness so far off the rails that to release it would be a P.R. disaster. And yet, here it is, in all its wrongheaded, excessive glory, for all the world to see. How did this movie turn out so wrong? Most importantly, how did they not know how unintentionally funny it was? From the moment that the other people on the bus started singing “Sister Christian,” they lost the audience. And that’s the first scene in the movie.
The year is 1987, and Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) boards a Tulsa bus headed for Los Angeles to try and make it as a singer. She gets mugged within seconds of arriving, but Drew (Diego Boneta), a barback at the legendary Bourbon Room, witnesses the incident and lands her a job at the bar waiting tables, and quickly after the two become an item. Drew has aspirations of being a rock star as well, much to the chagrin of the club manager Dennis (Alec Baldwin). Dennis is hurting for cash, but he’s hoping that the upcoming final show by Arsenal, fronted by rock god and future solo act Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), will dig him out of debt. Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston), meanwhile, is launching a campaign to clean up the city, and his pretty but pious wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) has her eyes set on destroying both Jaxx and the Bourbon Room. Drew gets a chance to open for Arsenal and kills it, but a misunderstanding between him and Sherrie send both down the path to the dark side of the entertainment industry.
Anyone familiar with the plot of the musical on which this movie is based would likely say, “What the hell?” after reading that plot summary, and they would not be out of place by doing so. The original ‘B’ stories about German developers and statutory rape charges are replaced by Tipper Gore knockoffs, the horniest Rolling Stone reporter in history (Malin Akerman, God love her), and a baboon named Hey Man (don’t ask). You have to think that Tom Cruise was responsible for a lot of those decisions; while he’s willing to be a clown, even a flawed one, for a laugh, there is clearly a moral code that the Tom Cruise brand will not accept, and Stacee’s character violates several of those codes, hence the new story. Having said that, Cruise is actually the best thing about the movie. He plays Stacee like a drunk Keanu Reeves, the too-cool-for-school rocker who acts blasé but is in fact well aware that he’s trapped and therefore guards his true feelings with his life.
It would have to be extremely difficult to take the points of view of dozens of different songwriters and weave them together in a coherent manner. I say ‘have to be’ because it doesn’t happen here. The holy rollers singing “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” then later singing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” while the rock fans counter with “We Built This City” (really, is there a song that’s less rock & roll than that?), or trying to wring some profound emotional truth out of a song like “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” it just doesn’t make sense. The oddest example of working a song into a story line is when Baldwin’s character sings “Can’t Fight This Feeling” to Russell Brand’s bar manager Lonny, during which there are scenes of the two spooning while playing miniature golf and riding a merry go round. (Even odder, this is not the first time two male characters have done a duet to this song, as “Horton Hears a Who” can attest.) Given the movie’s lack of self-awareness up to this point, these scenes stick out like a sore thumb. You’re either in on the joke from the beginning or you’re not, and this movie has no idea what it stands for.
And yet, in spite of all that is going wrong here – which is a lot – there is a certain dedication to the cause, however misguided and insane, that is fascinating. If you look at “Rock of Ages” as a movie that knows it’s beyond salvation and is interested in finding out just far down the rabbit hole it can go, then it might earn some respect as the next cult classic in the making. Unfortunately, this is far closer to “The Apple” (look it up, if you dare) than it is to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” In the end, it’s just one of those movies that was never going to work. Pity no one realized this before they spent tens of millions to make it.