ROCK OF AGES
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Julianne Hough, Diego
Boneta, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, Malin Akerman, Catherine
Zeta-Jones, Bryan Cranston, Tom Cruise
Director: Adam Shankman
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 123 Minutes
Release Date: October 9, 2012
“I'm a stripper at the Venus Club.”
“I'm in a boy band.”
Ah, the 1980s. What a great time to be a kid. The rock was loud, the hair was big, Ronald Reagan was President, the economy was soaring, and the Cold War was being won.
It also has become something of a nostalgic decade of late, where modern audiences like to look back and laugh at the fashions but enjoy what (so far) might have been the last hurrah of true arena rock. Rock of Ages is the latest look back at the decade of decadence with rose-colored glasses (when in reality, the colors were far too wild for just rose).
It's based on the hit Broadway musical that tells a story while using some of the decade's most noteworthy rock tunes. This is always kind of a risk; when it works well, it can be magical, like Moulin Rouge. When it doesn't, it becomes an indulgent joke, like Glee.
Rock of Ages falls somewhere in between. It has some joy, but not an infectious amount, and is a bit too heavy on the cheese and too light on the story and in the one-dimensional characters. We get to see and hear some big stars do their own singing. The results are mixed.
Sheree (Hough) comes to Hollywood from Oklahoma, with dreams of music stardom. She ends up at the legendary Bourbon club, run by Dennis Dupree (Baldwin) and his...sort-of sidekick Lonny (Brand), thanks to meeting a fellow dreamer and busboy Drew (Diego).
Dennis is trying to keep his club on top, while dealing with the upcoming show by the band Arsenal led by the odd Stacee Jaxx (Cruise), who has bizarre pre-show rituals and a penchant for showing up late, if at all. He's also dealing with the Tipper Gore-styled Patricia Whitmore (Jones), who wants musical morality and finds Jaxx the exact opposite of that.
There is hints of love stories here and there, and some awkward attempts at comedy. And of course, lots of music...all the hair band hits of the 80s. Hough and Diego are actually quite good singers, and handle the rock well. Brand and Baldwin, not so much...bless their hearts, they don't even have the charm necessary to make their lack of voices work. And anyone who saw Catherine Zeta-Jones' Oscar winning take in Chicago will not be surprised that the lovely lady can belt out a tune with no fear.
As for Tom Cruise...well, poor Tom. He's become the Michael Jackson of his profession, where the weirdness of his personal life is overshadowing his actual talent. His turn as Stacee Jaxx shows he is a good sport, and still one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood, taking voice lessons for four months prior to filming (remember, this is the guy who butchered “You've Lost That Loving Feeling” in Top Gun back in the decade this movie revels in). He does...okay. He certainly sells the material and hits the right notes, even if he falls just short of convincing anybody he really could have been as big a star as Stacee Jaxx was supposed to be.
Overall, it's not a dull film, but not a particularly winning one. My final two thoughts: “I Can't Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon, one of my favorite rock ballads, has been forever ruined by this experience.
Two...can we please stop putting Journey songs into everything? They're a great band, but really...one more burst into “Don't Stop Beliving” in a movie or TV show and I may be giving up my home theatre for the next Lent.
This is a solid anamorphic transfer from Warner Bros...excellent clarity and crispness throughout, with no artifacting or grain noticeable. It doesn't quite have the awe-inspiring color palate you might expect for a movie dealing with the 80s, but still, no flaws at all.
As you might expect, the dynamic range and punch from this uncompressed audio track comes from the music, which sounds potent and lively. Spoken words are clean and clear. There's not a lot of rear stage usage apart from the audience responses and a strange mix of Tom Cruise doing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” where “bomb bomb bomb bomb” comes from various corners of the room.
Two of the featurettes are real flashbacks for fans...one interviews the Legends of the Sunset Strip, and one features memories of some of the great rock songs of the 80s. These feature interviews with the likes of Sebastian Bach, Pat Benetar, Kevin Cronin, Def Leppard, Night Ranger and more...very cool.
There is also a featurette on recreating the look of the decade, and a feature on the music in the film.
Maybe I just like musicals with original music. Rock of Ages is a nice sonic trip back to my favorite decade, but doesn't quite deliver the fun you might be expecting overall.