“Rock of Ages” – Review by Zachary “The FilmWizard” Marsh

If you haven’t seen the 2007 musical remake ‘Hairspray,’ then I would highly recommend it. The director of that film, Adam Shankman, really knows how to put an audience into a different time period and have your toes tapping to some great songs. If you have seen ‘Hairspray,’ then you might want to know that Shankman is back with another musical, which takes place 25 years after ‘Hairspray’ and is not a PG family friendly film at all. Instead, ‘Rock of Ages’ portrays the slogan of the 1980s “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” very accurately. The key to liking a musical like this is the music itself. If someone doesn’t appreciate 80’s music at all, then they will not appreciate this film whatsoever. However if one likes 80’s music, then they will have an absolutely great time watching this film. Thanks to the fantastic music/dance sequences, great storytelling, and terrific cast, ‘Rock of Ages’ proves to be one of the summer’s more entertaining popcorn flicks and one of the most fun movie-going experiences to be had all year.

The year is 1987, and Sherrie is a small town girl from Kansas who wants to make it in Hollywood and become a singer. Coming to the big city, Sherrie is able to meet Drew, who is also an aspiring singer and a busboy at the famous Bourbon Room. Sherrie gets a job at the Bourbon thanks to Drew, and they start forming a connection through the power of rock and roll, along with soft core 80’s love songs. Meanwhile, the mayor’s wife, Patricia Whitmore, wants to shut down the Bourbon and redesign the entire Sunset Strip, as well as get rid of Rock & Roll, more specifically the iconic rock star Stacee Jaxx, once and for all.

I’m just going to say this off the bat: if you’re not a fan of 80’s music, chances are you will not like this movie at all. If you’re not a fan of movie musicals or just musicals in general, chances are you won’t like this movie much. This is the type of musical where, once the music starts playing, you can’t help but dance in your seat or tap your feet on the ground. Heck, I was even jamming from the likes of ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ and ‘Paradise City.’ However the music at a certain point fells like a bit too much. The blame there could be the film’s long two hour run time, because it felt like a song was being piled on every 5 minutes or so and you’d just want to get more of the story and more involvement with the characters themselves. Still though, this is the type of soundtrack that one can download onto an iPod and jam to long after the credits begin rolling at the end of the film. It’s a good thing that the actors could sing just as well as they could act, because in a musical the cast is quite vital to how it overall turns out. Luckily, the casting in this film could not have been better.

Julianne Hough was the female star in one of last year’s biggest surprises, the ‘Footloose‘ remake. In this film she plays Sherrie, the small town girl “living in a lonely world.” Hough’s performance of the small town girl with big dreams was absolutely great. I still believe that she might be able to become one of Hollywood’s smartest actresses because of her great streak at the moment. To be honest, I didn’t even know she was a singer before seeing this film. Her voice fit very well with the 80’s music that she belts out to, so much so that it reminded me a lot of Cyndi Lauper when she sang. I didn’t even know that her co-star Diego Boneta, who plays Drew in the film, was a singer either. Come to think of it, I had no idea who Boneta was before seeing this movie at all. That makes it all the more refreshing to see unknown stars actually act very well along with the fact that they have incredibly good vocal chords. The trick with the bigger actors in the movie, like Tom Cruise for example, is to see if they can sing well and act the part. Lucky for everyone who sings and acts in the movie, they all succeed beautifully.

To not talk about Tom Cruise as the fictional rock god Stacee Jaxx would be a real crime to the film itself, because Cruise really steals the show in every scene he’s in. It was very fun to see Cruise playing himself if he was a rock diva/god from the 80’s who was down on his career and was looking for something to make him want to perform again. Not only was Cruise great acting wise in the film, but his singing was surprisingly great. His rendition of Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ has been played on my iPod at least once every day after I got the soundtrack from a friend of mine. Cruise might not get any recognition for his portrayal of Jaxx, but he is stellar throughout his time in this movie. Same goes for Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, who play Dennis Dupree (the owner of the Bourbon) and Lonnie Barnett (the manager of the Bourbon/best friend of Dennis) respectively.

These guys are the true comedic reliefs of the film, as well as participate in some great song mash-ups. I knew Brand could sing thanks to his insanely funny songs from ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ and ‘Get Him to the Greek,’ but Baldwin I had no idea he could sing. He and Brand work perfectly together both musically and comedically, providing some great jokes as well as some great 80’s nostalgia that works perfectly with these two guys, who both look like hardcore rockers. Even Paul Giamatti gets some good voice work going along with his villainous work as Paul Gill, the record producer behind Stacee Jaxx’s band Arsenal who is looking for a fresh new act to replace Stacee. Giamatti is always great playing a villain, and this film is no exception to that. He is a conniving, sleazy character who, like all villains in films, gets exactly what’s coming to them. However what Giamatti has coming to him is too awesome to give away, so let’s just leave it at that. Bryan Cranston wasn’t advertised at all in the ads for this movie, but sure enough he is in it. He doesn’t sing at all in the movie, but Cranston is good for the part he was given. Let me put it this way: it leaned more towards his role in ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ than in ‘Breaking Bad.’ Overall all of the guys were great in this film, both vocally and acting wise. However the ladies of the film have far more superior voices then the men do.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is no stranger to musicals whatsoever. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Velma in 2002’s ‘Chicago,’ which also won the Oscar for Best Picture that same year. In this movie, Zeta-Jones plays the mayor’s wife/main antagonist of the film, Patricia Whitmore. Patricia is a very wacky character in all of the right ways. She sings one hilarious rendition of ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot,’ as well as an amazing mash-up with Russell Brand of the songs ‘We Built This City’ and ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It.’ Not only is she a fantastic singer, but her portrayal as a villain is just plain fun to watch. Sure she isn’t as great as other notable musical villains, but her crazy persona in the film makes up for that. Malin Akerman of ‘Watchman’ fame plays a writer for ‘Rolling Stone Magazine’ named Constance Sack who is mesmerized by the ways of Jaxx.

Akerman provides some great acting during her small presence in the movie, as well as one fantastic duet with Tom Cruise. You’d think that everyone in this film is good in their parts, right? Well, there is one actress who was really unnecessary in this movie, and her name is Mary J. Blige. Blige basically shows up in the second half of the film, doing some impressive vocal work, and hires Hough’s character as a stripper where they sing ‘Any Way You Want It.’ After that, she is just in the movie to be a part of various musical numbers. There was nothing else for her character other than singing. Blige’s singing might be stellar, but she isn’t given anything really to act with or have any other character arc aside from owning a strip club. Overall, if you like the music that this film features and the strong performances by the cast, then odds are you will have “nothing but a good time” when watching this movie.

‘Rock of Ages’ has a story that goes in all directions, music that’s wild and zippy, and a cast that knows how to rock it and work it when it comes to singing and acting. If you’re not a fan of musicals or 80’s music at all, then you probably won’t dig this movie very much. There are references to 80’s satire that at some points are actually clever and funny. The others are just regular old homages that are good but nothing really special. The cast rocks for the most part, with the most acting effort coming from Tom Cruise. The music will have you singing and dancing in your chairs if you’re into that type of thing. If not, then you can giggle at the fact that someone would actually sing and dance to these jukebox songs. However to that person who does geek out to this type of thing, do not feel ashamed to take a mind trip into the 1980s, because that’s exactly what ‘Rock of Ages’ is meant to do. The Broadway show is probably better, but for the most part this movie adaptation makes me want to rock out and belt out ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ in front of random strangers. If one is looking for a solid and fun theater experience this Father’s Day weekend, or just wants to rock out to some great 80’s covers done by some of today’s best stars, then take a time trip to 1987 and experience the pure fun of ‘Rock of Ages.’


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