June 22, 2012
Rocking the '80s in the city
Rock of Ages is a crowd-pleasing motion picture filled with goofy fun and outrageous moments. In this cinematic version of Chris D'Arienzo's campy Broadway musical, what makes it work is how the music remains its biggest star. Amidst its flimsy story and hit-or-miss casting, most viewers can become fairly involved with its hit songs. For someone with low expectations, this guilty pleasure works as a mindless satire featuring legions of fans who believe in the power of the rock 'n' roll generation.
The movie starts out fun and catchy even with its overused small town girl-meets-city boy hook. As the story's turning point brings the audience to the late 1980s Los Angeles, its nostalgic demeanor readily establishes the narrative's musical direction. As the rock 'n' roll romance starts to flourish, so goes with the film's mixtape of legendary tunes from the likes of Starship, Def Leppard, Journey, Guns N' Roses, Poison, Joan Jett, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, and Whitesnake. Interestingly, even for the younger generation who didn't necessarily grow up with these Eighties hits, some of the more notable songs like We Built This City and Don't Stop Believin' have that last-song-syndrome (LSS) factor that can remain in one's head for days.
On the good side, this glam rock-savvy flick features a couple of remarkable moments. It maybe a play-safe piece, but it shines in memorable parts with striking dialogue such as "I'm a stripper," followed by "I'm in a boy band." The handling of this hilarious scene readily makes it a classic. The pro-rock forces getting head to head with the anti-rock chorus render an engaging energy to this stagy romp. A couple of its farce camp instances involving Tom Cruise, Malin Akerman, Alec Baldwin, and Russell Brand also add to the commercial charm of the movie. Catherine Zeta-Jones goes a little bit overboard at times, but overall, her character still matches the treatment that director Adam Shankman needs for the story.
Channeling the embodiment of a rock god, Cruise promotes such a magnetic presence that often steals the show. His character as an amalgam of the decade's biggest rock icons aptly serves as a standout comedic act. His scenes with Akerman are hysterically comic. Meanwhile, Paul Giamatti is clearly a character stereotype meant to merely support his hard-rocking demeanor. Baldwin and Brand add to the urbane flair and some romantic overtones of the story.
On the disappointing side, Rock of Ages fails to tap into the deeper sensibilities of the rock 'n' roll spirit of the era. It settles for a cheesy romance between its two young leads, then it tries to add some flavor to the dull story using A-list talents. With such a cliche tale, it loses its footing and its overall vibe runs a little thin. It even comes to the point that it already lacks any real substance outside its display of the period's big rock anthems. Other than the entertainment that the musical pieces provide the audience, this film somehow gets too full of itself in trying to connect its bits and pieces of satirical elements.
Diego Boneta generally works for his role. However, Julianne Hough, an amazing dancer in real life, completely falters as a reedy and wispy singer in this movie. Her Britney Spears-like voice really pulls down the charm of her character. Her vocal performances don't really fit the raw energy of rock. What's even more frustrating is how her dancing skills get totally underplayed with her stripper scenes looking fake and often resorting to tight shots and multiple cuts.
Rock of Ages delivers a highly energetic musical for a willing audience. It has some likeable characters and legendary music to up the ante of the presentation. However, it lacks a more substantial story outside its formulaic plot. It isn't full of great nuances, rich characterizations, and brilliant storytelling to make it a classic offering of the genre. There is also a variable quality to its vocal pieces and better singers could have helped in the flawed parts. At best, this movie is unpretentious in the way it explores its campy and goofy components for the sake of harmless fun.
Rock of Ages is now showing in theaters nationwide.
About the writer: Exposed in the different facets of media including film, TV, advertising, theater, radio, print, web, and events, Rianne is an awarded filmmaker whose film works go beyond her productions. As a young and active soul, she immerses herself in various disciplines as a director, writer, educator, and production artistdriving her to further learn and experience love and life.