Nothin’ But A Good Time
Rock Of Ages opens in 1987 Los Angeles, introducing us to a young country girl, Sherrie [Hough], who details her desire to ‘make it’ in the big city. At the same time, we’re introduced to Drew [Boneta], a bar hand working at the grungy rock club, The Bourbon Room. The two meet after Sherrie is mugged and Drew persuades his manager to hire her as a waitress. The Bourbon Room, run by ageing rock fanatic Dennis Dupree [Baldwin] and his ridiculous brummie right-hand man, Lonny Barnett [Brand], is in a bit of a bind owing to reneging on a year’s worth of tax payments – but all that is about to change as legendary rock group, Arsenal, are set to play their final gig in Dupree’s establishment. All of which hinges on the actual appearance of Arsenal’s lead singer, the eccentric, unpredictable but clearly talented Stacee Jaxx [Cruise]. Jaxx lives the ultimate rock life, stumbling around in a constant alcoholic stupor with his entourage of skanky girls and a baboon named Hey Man, nursed and protected by his unscrupulous manager, Paul Gill [Giamatti]. The only individual who sees Jaxx for what he is, is Rolling Stone journalist, Constance Sacks [Malin Akerman]. Working as a sub-plot, the mayor of LA and his wife, Patricia Whitman [Zeta-Jones] are determined to clean up Hollywood’s Sunset strip and protest against the filth and corruption that rock ‘n roll represents. On the night of the big performance, when the support act pulls out, Sherrie recommends Drew’s band open. The audience greatly enjoy Drew’s performance and Gill approaches him with a record deal. The plot spills on illustrating Drew selling out, Sherrie becoming a stripper and Jaxx being Jaxx.
Of course, all of that is irrelevant as the story is second rate – it’s rare that a musical adaptation will have a solid narrative but this is such a massive departure from the source material (in which Dennis dies and Stacee is charged with statutory rape) but I’m not here to analyse the differences, so we’ll just ignore those. First of all, the songs are performed well and no matter how much or how little singing is actually done, everyone does a decent job; sometimes the harmonies veer into karaoke territory but it’s largely entertaining. I especially enjoyed the Jukebox Hero/I Love Rock ‘n Roll medley at the start of the film, which blended the actors’ various singing abilities with two well matched tracks. Visually, the film is vibrant and manages to breathe life into several small scenes. To explain, most musicals tend to organise an entire musical number in one room, arranging the performance as if it were on-stage and rather than ending up with a formulaic use of sound stages, the locations feel curiously believable. Although a lot of the humour falls to the side of the road, there’s plenty on-screen to amuse and entertain from start to finish.
That aside, the film is far from perfect. The portrayal of 1987 is horrific; essentially it’s the 80s as remembered by people who were too young to really experience it or clearly grew up in a bubble of delusion – to give you an idea for comparison, The Lost Boys was released in ’87, good luck finding one scene that remotely felt like that time capsule piece. And as much as this is a problem with the source material, the songs used are not the ‘golden tracks’ of 80’s rock. What Rock Of Ages should have been was a combination of the This Is Spinal Tap attitude and the soundtrack for School Of Rock. What we end up with instead are a bunch of safe tracks and a deplorably predictable narrative – like a Dad’s Drive Time Hits version of Glee. Even the use of decent cinematography is almost completely overshadowed by the abysmal direction and awful choreography (this isn’t contradictory to what I said earlier). Point in case, Catherine Zeta-Jones is rallying a cackle of mothers in a church hall when she bursts into song, performing Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot. The dance sequence is embarrassing, the singing is fair enough but the performance is beyond laughable. By extension, the lead performances are absolutely shitty, especially when compared to the likes of Cruise, Giamatti and Baldwin. It’s atypical and almost expected when you use singers instead of actors, sort of like the actors’ singing ability.. it’ll do but it’s not as good as it could be. Speaking of casting, if you’re employing a little guy like Dustin Hoffman or Tom Cruise, you don’t film him alongside a monkey.. it instantly highlights how tiny he is. Incidentally, if you’d like to know, Tom Cruise is two monkeys tall.
In all honesty, the mediocre elements are all completely forgivable and would happily fade into the background due to the overall energy of the film. That is, if it weren’t for the film’s biggest.. issue. This movie rides very heavily on the interpretation of the hair metal/glam rock scene in the 80s: the drinking, the women, the music and most importantly the drugs. This film has been rated 12a/PG-13 and subsequently they can’t show smoking, let alone drug use. What they can show is Tom Cruise finishing off bottles of whiskey and lots and lots of risqué sexual content. In fact, the sheer sexual content is not only off putting but excruciatingly uncomfortable. I realise this may sound quite prudish but for a film with no actual nudity there is a massive amount of vagina and lippage on display here. Rather than list the amount of heaving cleavages, grinding, writhing and dry humping going on, I’ll just describe two scenes for you. The first is Stacee Jaxx’s introduction. At one of his concerts, the crowd are cheering for Arsenal’s lead to appear on-stage; frantic, Gill enters Jaxx’s dressing room only to be greeted by a bed of barely clad women, all of whom are coiled and covering the rocker. As Jaxx rises like a zombie from his fleshy female grave, the camera starts on his crotch and works up to his face, before cutting to his arse, then back to the crotch. And all he’s wearing is arseless chaps and a jewel encrusted speedo/banana hammock thing. The second scene takes place after Jaxx’s interview with Constance and he begins to seduce her with his lonely cowboy, troubled artist routine, throughout which Cruise and Akerman sing I Want To Know What Love Is. I.. I don’t know where to start with this one, at one point Cruise appears to be singing directly into Akerman’s arsehole. See, the problem isn’t so much the sexual content, it’s the lack of sexual content and the ‘how much can we get away with’ mentality. If you’re going to make the film about rutting, crank up the rating and do whatever you need to do, if the film is a 12a teen friendly hop-skip-and-a-jump away from a Disney release, then maybe pull the reins on the vast sprawling frontier of arse that the cast flaunt. Otherwise, it’s a bit creepy.
Rock Of Ages should have been a loud, fun, colourful extravaganza with vivacious performances and anthemic music, instead the entire experience was sullied by an extremely oily overtone and sleazy direction. There are a great deal of redeeming qualities but all you’ll probably remember is the excessive amount of gyrating and posturing from the most unlikely individuals.
15th June 2012
The Scene To Look Out For:
About midway through the film, seemingly out of nowhere, Dupree and Barnett engage in a duet to the tune of I Can’t Fight This Feeling. It shouldn’t be funny but it really is and it’s worth the admission price for that scene alone. Either that or Stacee Jaxx commanding Constance Sacks to “Open your mouth”.. that was a fucking terrifying image that will probably haunt me for years to come.
For all his ridiculousness, people forget that Tom Cruise is actually a good actor, he just happens to be a mental person. As such his performance here is actually quite expected; he saunters around the sets, sings quite well and embodies the fictional rock legend with ease. Outside of Cruise’s obvious hijacking of this film (because the character is such a completely different individual from the one in the original musical), the only other stand out individual is the ever-phenomenal Paul Giamatti. I can’t imagine a film in which he doesn’t give an extraordinary performance with what he’s been given, even if the film itself is sub par.
“I’m just messing with you man.. you can’t trap a fire phoenix”
In A Few Words:
“The whole experience is like a very uncomfortable lap dance, with flecks of sweat hitting you in the face and you’re not sure where to look and it just keeps going and going.. but the music’s good, so you just go with it and desperately try not to make eye contact with Tom Cruise”