These days movie musicals feel like a horribly diverse bag that leans more on the side of being bad than being great. You have really fun ones like Mamma Mia! and barely passable ones like the adaptation for RENT. And call it a bit of personal bias, but I have to state that Rock of Ages didn't come across as one of the better ones out there.
I have stated repeatedly on this blog that I do my best to separate the source material from its various adaptations when I write my reviews. I'm not sure how well I can do this given this movie is meant to be a film representation of the same musical. But given the many changes to the story, I suppose it's still a valid argument that this is a completely different creative endeavor. I will have a bit of a commentary related to the differences between the movie and the original musical, but my final assessment (I hope) will be focused more on the movie alone. At least that's how the theory goes.
Synopsis: Rock of Ages is a musical romantic comedy movie based on the Chris D'Arienzo stage musical of the same name. It was directed by Adam Shankman with a screen play by Justin Thereoux, Allan Loeb and D'Arienzo.
We're back in 1987 and a young Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) arrives in Los Angeles hoping to start a music career. However her suitcase is quickly stolen upon arriving in the city despite the efforts of Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) to recover it. He tries to comfort her and maneuvers things to get her a job at The Bourbon, the bar where he works. She gets hired as a waitress and now just needs to figure out how to get back on her feet and pursue her musical dreams.
Meanwhile the owner of The Bourbon, Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and his partner-in-crime Lonny (Russell Brand) are trying to find a way to keep the bar in the black and settle the many unpaid taxes that have built up. They finally come up with an idea that may save the bar - booking a performance by Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), a now-famous rock star who once got his start at the bar. It's reported that he is planning to retire and booking his final performance would definitely draw crowds. In contrast, the mayor's wife Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) has gotten news about the possible Stacee Jaxx concert and gathers her church group to protest the move and clean up the city of its image of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
The movie seems to follow the current trend of pushing mash-ups as the best way to showcase songs. I lost count how many songs were mixed together for the various sequences in the movie - it all depends on how much you like song mash-ups, I suppose. Some worked. Others felt a little forced.
The chemistry between the two leads is endearing enough and they fall in love with one another at the accelerated pace that is typical of many musical narratives. They have quite a number of opportunities to feature their singing talents and throw one song after another at each other in order to sway the other. It works from a musical perspective, although I can imagine how some folks may find it a little corny at times if you're just comparing it to other movies.
Tom Cruise is rather brilliant as the over-the-top, highly narcissistic Stacee Jaxx. Given his various odd encounters with the media in past years, this role really suited him in an ironic sense. Normally I find Tom Cruise to be a bit of a ham, but the role of Stacee Jaxx could only be truly brought to life on the screen by this sort of excessive, campy acting. So yeah, he totally worked here.
I guess my main issue was the introduction of Patricia to the film. You can tell she was a change to the story since her character doesn't perfectly fit in with the rest of the story. Sure she still fulfills a similar narrative function as the mayor did in the original play, but the decision to push her motivations to being related to religious motivations and yet also her past with Jaxx just felt like a mess. This was definitely a weaker part of the story and evidence that I feel shows that sometimes it's better to just work with the original material.
Rock of Ages is fun in its own right, but not as brilliant as other movie musicals and certainly a pale shadow of the original stage play. There's an odd sense of emptiness in the movie that makes it feel like something was lost in the translation to film. So my rating for this movie is only 2 unusual venues for dance numbers out of a possible 5.