Director Adam Shankman hasn’t had the best filmography. He’s known for making comedies, ranging from mediocre to just flat-out bad (unless you’re willing to defend something like Cheaper by the Dozen 2). Though something he doesn’t show off much in his directing is his experience in choreography. He has choreographed for many movies, but none of his own until he got his time to shine in 2007, as his rendition of Hairspray was a big hit for him, proving he had a filmmaking spot for musicals through his staging of musical sequences. I loved the energy and spirit of Hairspray, so I was extremely looking forward to seeing in Rock of Ages. Even though I haven’t seen the musical, it seemed like something I would enjoy. An ode to 80s pop culture, classic rock mashups, what’s not to like? When the first trailer came out, some quickly responded in disinterest, and I thought they were absolutely crazy. A fun, crowd-pleasing musical is right at home for the summertime, and I had my fingers crossed for a surprise hit. So, now that I’ve seen it, does Shankman have another winner here or were the haters right? I can easily say that although it is very entertaining at times, it’s an overall disappointment.
Rock of Ages stars Julianne Hough as a small-town girl named Sherrie, traveling all the way from Oklahoma to Hollywood to become the famous singer she is destined to be. When she arrives, she immediately meets Drew, played by Diego Boneta, a boy who works at the famous Bourbon Room and aspires to be a rockstar. Drew helps Sherrie get a job at the Bourbon Room, where she meets Dennis, played by Alec Baldwin, the owner of the bar, and his right-hand man, Lonny, played by Russell Brand. The two youngsters fall in love, while dealing with the price of fame, fortune, and rock and roll. Throughout their story, there is also a group of conservative protesters, led by Catherine Zeta-Jones, trying to shut down the Bourbon Room. Though at its core, the protest really is in spite of the infamous rock icon and Drew’s biggest influence, Stacee Jaxx, played by Tom Cruise. As you can tell already, this movie has an all-star cast, and they are easily the best part. They really bring their characters to life by truly disappearing into their roles. Tom Cruise is the man of the show, embodying the rockstar legend archetype as Stacee Jaxx with humor and passion, but let’s not shut out the other acts, including Paul Giamatti as the scumbag manager of Stacee. Everyone does a great job, but you wish they had more screen time than the main couple, who are just not very interesting. Which brings me to my issues with the movie…
The movie asks you to connect with the love story of Sherrie and Drew, but the story isn’t strong enough to get us to care. The screenplay, written by Chris D’Arienzo, Allan Loeb (who wrote Just Go With It, The Dilemma, and The Switch…yuck), and Justin Theroux (who wrote Tropic Thunder and Iron Man 2…better), has more interest in building up towards musical scenes rather than developing the plot. The big problem with that is if the plot doesn’t matter, then the musical sequences don’t, either. The movie is flooded with way too many songs that don’t really move the story along. The movie clocks in at 2 hours and 3 minutes, and if you can’t get us interested in the story in that time frame, you clearly need to cut some things out. The songs are supposed to represent the characters expressing their feelings, but they either feel completely forced or just irrelevant. At this point, you would think that Adam Shankman could save the movie with entertaining musical scenes, but they fail to fully deliver on that, too. Some songs are fun to watch, but generally, Shankman doesn’t do anything unique with them. Some sequences have the actors just singing on a stage, while others recycle the sets of the musical sequences before them. They all lack the theatricality of a broadway musical, which is really bad since bringing a play to the big screen is supposed to help you do what you can’t do on a stage. The directing and the screenplay work against each other here, and it’s a real shame.
Rock of Ages will win over some people, specifically those who don’t want much out of a movie, yet even they might find this movie to be lacking. The cast is great, but they are limited by a screenplay that doesn’t really know what to do other than have musical sequences, and musical sequences that don’t really know what to do with the screenplay. You might see this movie and think that I’m being overly harsh, but I’m not trying to trash it, it has a good amount of entertainment value. Though what if we got a deeper rock and roll love story and musical numbers deserving enough for a standing ovation? Maybe the screenplay was screwed from the beginning, but you could still have had a visually and musically charming movie with Adam Shankman on board. Though that’s a missed opportunity, too.