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Rock of Ages Plays It Safe And Oh Yeah, It Sucks Too

Rock of Ages
Directed by Adam Shankman
Written by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, and Allan Loeb based on the musical by D’Arienzo
Warner Bros., 2012

First off, let’s just say it’s way too easy to criticize Adam Shankman because every movie he has ever directed has been terrible, and yet, in general, they’re all hits, which just makes me shake my head.  It’s really all I have the power to do.  He makes movies that an undemanding general public want to see and scores with them.  Good for him.  He still sucks.  All the money in the world doesn’t change that.

Rock of Ages is based on the musical that arrived in 2006 and got nominated for a few Tony Awards.  Set in LA on the Sunset Strip in 1987, it’s about wannabe rocker Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) who falls in love with just-off-the-bus wannabe actress Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough), as the two work at the Bourbon Room, a legendary LA club where many rockers got their big break but is now in bankruptcy.  Manager Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his assistant Lonny (Russell Brand) try to get the band Arsenal, winding up their final tour before their lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) goes solo, free of charge.  But Jaxx is managed by the smarmy Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti), and the deal may not be as great as Dupree hopes.

Also, with a bunch of conservatives ready to take on the Sunset Strip, Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his Tipper Gore-ish wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the club is in danger of becoming stamped “immoral” and Patricia will do anything to try to get the club closed down.

So Drew and Sherrie have the storybook romance going, but then Jaxx shows up and Sherrie is obviously smitten, just like everyone else.  Drew and his band, Wolfgang Von Colt, are getting a big break by getting a chance to open for Arsenal, but at what cost?  When Rolling Stone writer Constance Stack (Malin Akerman) comes in to grill Jaxx over his attitude, the whirlwind of sexual escapades going through Jaxx’s dressing room lead Drew to think Sherrie has been nailing him, and thus the inevitable breakup and “all downhill from here” section of the movie.

So millions of 80s songs are sung in this musical, all of them with the tone of “please don’t judge me,” which leads to awful renditions of Journey, Def Leppard, et al.  Good thing the instrumentation is spot on I guess, since it will fool most people who love the hair metal from back in the day into loving every song.  None of these performers are capable of really bringing it–I think I would have preferred lip-synched versions of the real thing than the real, watered-down versions here.

Tom Cruise is getting plaudits for his performance here, but every time he’s onscreen, the movie is in an intense zone that no one can quite match.  He’s supposed to be a funny representation of rock excess, but he just seems damaged and tortured, and not in some ironic, laugh-at-me way.  I’m almost certain Shankman understood this, since he gives Jaxx a baboon sidekick to cut away to anytime he needs a laugh.  Oh, look at the monkey: He’s making faces!  He’s dressed in a suit!  He’s drinking alcohol!

The religious conservative threat in the movie is pretty ridiculous, too.  It’s never a real “threat,” Dupree never seems aware of them, and even if he were, there just isn’t anything to be worried about on this front, ever.  Catherine Zeta-Jones is still smoking at 42, and she’s good, but her character is useless.

It’s pretty safe to say I didn’t enjoy myself.  But I admit others will, if they don’t mind karaoke versions of the songs they love and a generally bad movie stuffed in between them.

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