29 June 2012

Movie Review: Rock of Ages


Rock of Ages 
2012, 123mins, 12 
Director: Adam Shankman 
Writer (s): Chris D'Arienzo, Justin Theroux, Allan Loeb, 
Cast includes: Tom Cruise, Catherine-Zeta Jones, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston, Malin Akerman 
UK Release Date: 15th June 2012 

 On paper “Rock of Ages” should be a storming chunk of summer cinema. Taking a beloved musical, the director of 2007’s winning “Hairspray” and putting Tom Cruise in the role of a sozzled rock legend sounds like a full-proof formula, but alas the picture is in reality nothing short of terrible. In fairness Cruise delivers on his own individual promise, but the rest of the movie is an incoherent and shambling wreck, everything from the musical numbers to the storytelling underwhelming with depressing consistency. The main villain appears to be director Adam Shankman, who has handled this style of material effectively in the past, but here his storytelling, editorial and photographical touch are way off. The film is stitched together ineptly, Shankman failing almost totally to set an appropriate tone or to satisfactorily connect the various plot strands in any sort of intelligent or logical way.

A small-town girl (can you guess what 80s tune that pairs with later?) hailing from Tulsa, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) has dreams of making it big in L.A, bussing there with aspirations of fulfilment through her musical talents. On arrival she quickly meets Drew (Diego Boneta, horribly miscast) a chirpy bartender with similar aspirations. Drew secures Sherrie a job at the Bourbon club run by Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand), the photogenic youngsters falling in love faster than you can say second act. The film then messily splits into three separate passages, which loosely intertwine before the finale. The first sees Sherrie and Drew struggle with romance amidst impending fame, the second follows an anti-rock music campaign speared by the Mayor’s forceful wife (Catherine- Zeta Jones) and last but definitely not least is the story of troubled musical megastar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise).

“Rock of Ages” fails both as a musical and more traditional narrative. The numbers that populate the piece are covers of 80s glam-rock and power ballad classics, some of which are very listenable, but unfortunately here most are performed blandly or suffer from Shankman’s lack of controlled vision. Leaving aside one raunchily deigned set-piece featuring Crusie and Malin Akerman (portraying a journalist) the choreography is heartbreakingly uninventive, both energy and spectacle strangely lacking. Shankman seems a lot less at home with the grubby club setting than he was with sunny Baltimore in “Hairspray”, the dearth of confidence or imagination directly translating into the broad, unmemorable aesthetic. The big tunes headed by Boneta are a particular concern; the actor can’t get a grip on his part dramatically or vocally. His inability to service the material also rubbishes Hough’s arc, the actress otherwise faring slightly better. Together they lack chemistry and suffocate the film’s romantic heartbeat.

The screenplay is dire and the editing chaotic. Any comedic success the film ascertains comes from particular actor’s inherent sensibilities (Brand and Baldwin deserve a mention) rather than any real wit evidenced on the page. Some concentrated effort is made surrounding Jaxx, but the rest of the movie is a scrappy bore, lurching from one bad idea to the next. Which prim and proper figure used to live the rock lifestyle? Who’s gay? Why does Eli Roth have a cameo? These are the questions that “Rock of Ages” sees fit to ask, but the answer to all is unanimous. Nobody cares.

Some mercy must be reserved for Cruise who embodies the haunted rock-god physique commendably, and surprisingly proves to be a nifty singer. The stalwart’s contribution is refreshing amidst the sea of general awfulness, surrounded by scantily clad women, uniformed monkeys and bottles of scotch. He remembers not just to have fun, but to ensure that audiences can as well, something everyone else apparently overlooked. I don’t doubt “Rock of Ages” was a fabulous shoot; the issue is so little of that obvious joy crosses over to the viewing experience.

“Rock of Ages” is a disappointment and a sizeable misfire, the film having opened well below expectations at the North American box-office. It’s not hard to see why audiences have rejected the work; a cocktail of camp ambience, tragically misguided film-making and banal storytelling is rarely the favourite of anyone. The promotional material promises “Nothin’ but a good time”. Not quite guys, not quite.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012


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