Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rock of Ages Movie Review

I'm not a groupie by any means, but I do enjoy 80's Rock 'n Roll. I am much too reserved to be a legit groupie. Having said that, I was psyched to see Rock of Ages (2012), a movie based on a Broadway musical that exclusively features 80's rock music. How can you go wrong with a rock musical?
Arriving in Hollywood with stars in her eyes, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) meets Drew (Diego Boneta), and together they plunge headlong into the local rock scene in the Sunset Strip, dreaming of Rock 'n Roll stardom. The rock club they work at, The Bourbon Room, is in dire financial strain. The owners Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand) are relying on money from a gig by the enigmatic and unreliable rock god Stacie Jaxx (Tom Cruise).  Meanwhile, Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) the religiously conservative wife of Los Angeles' Mayor rallies her church to protest in front of The Bourbon Room, planning to shut them down in an attempt to rid L.A. of its "sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll" image. Even with everything riding on the gig, Stacie Jaxx's conniving manager (Paul Giamatti) tries to get away with The Bourbon Room's earnings.
I'd never heard of the Rock of Ages Broadway show before this moving came out. I really liked the idea of a musical with 80's rock music, and there is an outstanding rock classics from artists such as  Def Leppard, Journey, Poison, Guns N' Roses, Joan Jett, Bon Jovi, David Lee Roth, and Twisted Sister among others. And they were so creatively implemented. One of my favorites was when Stacie Jaxx was being interviewed by Rolling Stone Magazine, while describing how his life is much more complicated than it appears, you hear Bon Jovi queuing up in the background and then he starts singing "Wanted Dead or Alive." The other favorite of mine was when The Bourbon Room's clientele are waiting to enter while being scorned by the conservative fanatics. The resulting song is an amazing mash up of Starship's "We Built This City" sung by the rock patrons and Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" sung by the protesters. The way the songs are worked into the story is extraordinarily creative and even riveting.
The story itself, though isn't all that impressive. Early on, all the stories are fairly intertwined, but they branch off into their own storylines. There were some storylines that I was more invested in than others. The love/separation story between Sherrie and Drew was pretty run of the mill until they went their separate ways and had to compromise their dreams. When they got back together to lament where life had taken them, Sherrie to a waitress at a strip club and Drew to join a pop boy band, it was decided that Drew is the one that hit rock bottom. Stacie Jaxx's story was more interesting with the media hounding him, his fame and status as a rock god on the brink of toppling as rock was giving way to pop. I thought the most interesting storyline was Dennis and Lonny trying to keep The Bourbon Room up and running as they approach bankruptcy and as the conservative fanatics close in on them. Dennis and Lonny are the comic reliefs in the movie; they are funny and manage to make things like a failing business amusing. But in the end each story wasn't all that interesting on its own, and the overall story arch was only vaguely interesting as each storyline interwove with the others.
Getting Tom Cruise to play Stacie Jaxx was a brilliant casting decision. I imagine the role of Stacie Jaxx is a coveted role, like Edna Turnblad in Hairspray or Éponine in Les Miserables. Tom Cruise has a reputation for being a formerly reputable actor who is now crazy, joined the Scientology church, and jumps on Oprah's couch. The character Stacie Jaxx has a very weird personality, is drunk with his own fame, is out of touch with reality, and is kind of a rock god/man child going through a meltdown. Who better to play that sort of role than Tom Cruise? He kind of takes our perception of him as a crazy guy and uses it as a strength, and he does just that immensely well in Rock of Ages.
In the end, Rock of Ages was disappointing. The story just barely kept me engaged and most of the characters were fairly cliché. The sets were great and the costumes were perfect; they really helped sell the late-1980's feel. The music was outstanding, but that's because it was taken from some of the best songs that 80's rock had to offer and provided some excellent covers; the music is what made Rock of Ages any good. The sex scenes were very risqué for a PG-13 movie; Rock of Ages really pushed what I thought was acceptable for a PG-13 movie. It would probably put off some viewers; heck, I found myself averting my eyes. I appreciated that Patricia and the religious conservatives were not picked on for being conservative or religious; the character had a personal vendetta, the movie wasn't out to bash religion or those with conservative ideals.
 This movie is definitely not for everyone. However, if you like rock 'n roll, if you like music, or think you know when the death of rock 'n roll was, you'll probably enjoy Rock of Ages. Even if you are in that category, I still say Rock of Ages is a renter. If you're just there for the music like I was, you could make your own play list out of the movie's soundtrack and rock your soul out to that. There is the fact that Rock of Ages really captured the feeling and vibe of an 80's rock concert that makes watching the movie more fun than listening to some MP3's.

Here's that We Built This City/We're Not Gonna Take It mash-up scene to illustrate the creative usage of the songs:

So, a musical that features classic songs form a specific music genre. If you were writing a musical like that what genre of music would you use? Country? R&B? Pop? Jazz? Whatever the heck it is that Lady Gaga does?  Comment below and tell me about it!

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