Wednesday 24 December 2014

Movie Review: Rock Of Ages (2012)

A musical romance that manages to both satirize and celebrate the mid-1980's LA metal scene, Rock Of Ages is wholly predictable and mindlessly fun.

It's 1987, and wholesome small town Oklahoma girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) arrives in Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a singer. She meets and falls in love with Drew (Diego Boneta), an aspiring musician waiting for his break by working at The Bourbon Room, a legendary club on the Sunset Strip. The Bourbon is owned by Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and his sidekick Lonny (Russell Brand), and they are struggling with a mounting tax bill and declining revenues.

Dennis pins his hopes for a financial recovery on a final concert by the metal band Arsenal, whose lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) is leaving to pursue a solo career. Arsenal's manager is the oily Paul (Paul Giamatti), who has his own plans for the financial windfall. Meanwhile Rolling Stones reporter Constance (Malin Ã…kerman) is hoping for a groundbreaking interview with Stacee, while a new Mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) vow to clean up the city from the evils of heavy metal. When Sherrie appears to fall under the irresistible spell of Jaxx, her relationship with Drew is threatened.

An adaptation of the Broadway show, Rock Of Ages draws all of its energy from the music. Featuring famous metal and rock anthems from the 1980s, including songs by Guns 'N Roses, Foreigner, Def Leppard, Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, Extreme and REO Speedwagon among others, Rock Of Ages soars during the musical numbers as delivered by the cast members.

Director Adam Shankman finds the best moments when focussing on stage performances, and Cruise stomping all over Leppard's Pour Some Sugar On Me is a particular highlight in capturing the era's deliciously decadent sexuality. Also good are some of the mash-ups, where two songs are cleverly stitched together into one. Less successful are the larger song-and-dance numbers, where creaky choreography is exposed, and Shankman appears out of his depth as he fumbles to try and capture the dynamism of fluid group dance movements.

The story is standard musical tripe, a romance among wannabes set against the backdrop of big shows and industry politics. There is a steady stream of humour to keep things lively, and certain plot elements work better than others. Reporter Constance falling under Stacee's spell gets the movie's vibe and is over-the-top entertaining, while Patricia's quest to stamp out metal fares poorly as a sub-plot and never gains traction. The Sherrie - Drew romance is as bland as can be expected.

Meanwhile, most of the performances are better than they could have been. Baldwin, Giamatti and Brand fully buy into the silly premise, and Tom Cruise outshines them all with a ridiculously good turn as Stacee Jaxx. Cruise is nothing less than perfect as a burnt out and yet still magnetic rock star, trading on past glories and without a surviving creative bone in his body, but beyond caring as he enjoys the life of a god. It's a performance that should have nabbed Cruise an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

The two leads are trampled by their more established colleagues. Julianne Hough is out of place among all the Sunset Strip filth, both in her less than convincing acting and in her country music appeal, while Diego Boneta as Drew never threatens to steal any of the spotlight.

Embracing the simplicity of an era when shallow superstars fueled a festival of sweat, sex and self-indulgence, Rock Of Ages rocks on.

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