If only life was played to the music of Def Leppard, then all girls would feel the need to pour some sugar on me. If you know what I mean.
This movie tells the story of small town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and city boy Drew (Diego Boneta), who meet on the Sunset Strip while pursuing their Hollywood dreams. Their rock ‘n’ roll romance is told through the heart-pounding hits of Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Whitesnake, and more.
I’ve never been a big fan of the 80’s but from time to time, I’ll find myself rocking out to a couple of hair metal tunes like “Cherry Pie”, “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, and plenty of others. So the idea of having a musical taking place around that era and focusing on that music, didn’t really have me reaching out for my “nostalgia money” but hey, nostalgia isn’t all that bad.
Director Adam Shankman is a guy who knows how to do musicals and bring out the most energy in them. Everything looks so colorful, the dance numbers have people running all over the place while pulling off some neat Michael Jackson-like moves, the editing is choppy but gives the film this frantic feel to it, and a hell of a lot of camp to be had here as well. I mean whenever anybody talks about the 80’s, you can’t get past the fact that everything in that era was just so corny and goofy, but also, so perfect for that time period. That aspect is what this film plays off of and I think Shankman did a pretty damn good job recreating this era to the point of where I felt like I actually was watching a story in the 80’s, not just a dramatization on what might have been.
But if you’re going to see this film, you’re not going to be bothered with the camp of purty colors that are on display. Nope. You’re definitely going to be seeing this film because you love 80’s music, or just music in general and if that is the case, then this is a perfect fit for your music loving heart. Every time the film would start to get lame and focus on its “story”, a kick-ass musical number would just come right in to bring my attention back onto the screen, get my feet tapping, and simulate all of drum parts for each and every song. Everybody in the theater that I was with, kept looking at me but I didn’t care because I just could not help myself once people starting belting out lyrics to “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, “I Wanna Rock”, and even, yes, “I Want to Know What Love Is” (hey, don’t judge that song can get to you, man). Some of the songs aren’t used in the right context here and some even weren’t made yet by the time that this film takes place in, but either way, I could not stop rocking out and I came to realize that the 80’s was a pretty cool time for music. Never thought I’d be saying that.
The problem with this film is that whenever people aren’t jamming out to some choice tracks, everything starts to get boring and terribly dull. The center story, that the rest of the film takes place around, is beyond cliché where we see a young girl come all the way to Hollywood to be a huge singer, only to fall in love with another young, up-and-comer. Boring! This is something we have all seen done before and nothing else is really changed here with the exception that this love is surrounded by 80’s tracks, but even they couldn’t get my head past the weak-ass story. I actually think I dozed off a couple of times, only to be awoken by the loud, thunderous sounds of the music that would bring all of the fun this movie needed.
The film also doesn’t have much to say about the 80’s, let alone the music that took over this decade. Maybe I was going for something more than what I really needed from a musical like this but I think that the film could have done more with it’s whole 80’s premise, rather than just showing us how cool it was. It would have been a nice mixture of Rock Star and Hairspray, and even though that may not sound so wickedly cool and fun, it still would have offered more insight to its decade than this film did. Also, 2 hours and 4 minutes is sort of pushing it a little too long, especially when you have a musical that’s just strictly for the 80’s crowd.
What really made this film such a blast though, aside from the 80’s tracks, was the strange ensemble that came out believable and made this film a whole lot better. Malin Akerman is delightful and sexy as the “Rolling Stone” reporter that gets involved with a big-time rocker; Mary J. Blige may not be the best actress out there but she sure as hell can sing, which that’s all this film needs; Paul Giamatti is slimy and slightly evil as Paul Gill, but who else could play that type of character; Catherine Zeta-Jones is over-the-top as Patricia Whitmore, the wife of the Mayor, but is entertaining and has one sick-ass dance number that brought me back to her Chicago days; and Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand both have a lot of fun with each other as the two club owners, but I think needed more time on-screen as well. As for our little tikes in the leads, Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, they are delightful to watch but kind of get blown out of the water by this phenomenal supporting cast. Mainly, one in particular.
Tom Cruise as hair metal icon Stacee Jaxx, was not only a perfect bit of casting for Mr. Cruise here but also the best part of this whole movie. Lately, Cruise has been taking more and more roles that show him sort of making fun of his own image and this is one of those roles where he gets to play around a bit with that image, but also be able to release his inner rocker. His voice may sound a little too weak for some of these songs that he performs, but it doesn’t matter because the guy takes over the screen whenever he’s on and also has a pretty credible character arc to him as well. It’s nothing like Magnolia, but it’s still the only arc for any character in this movie and it’s used well because it’s Tom Cruise dammit! Honestly, Tom Cruise has one last, big Oscar for him somewhere and even though it may not be this role, I know it’s still coming up soon regardless.
Consensus: Rock of Ages may have a weak story that makes the era its portraying more dull than it has any right to be, but the non-stop 80’s tracks are filled with energy and fun, and feature some great performances from this impressive ensemble cast of characters, especially an intense Tom Cruise.