Like a hideous hybrid of Glee, High School Musical and Rock Follies, this brash big screen adaptation of the Broadway hit explodes into life with a power chord and a grim inevitability. In a world where holograms of Jim Morrison and Hendrix mark rock 'n' roll’s ultimate surrender to tacky showbiz, Rock of Ages cashes in on both nostalgia and modern concepts of ironic cool.
It’s aimed at over-forties raised on the garish excesses of 1980s hair metal and a much younger audience who believe that those garish excesses are somehow the very height of guilty pleasure post-modernism.
The sight of Tom Cruise playing a jaded rock god is, of course, delicious and it is Rock of Ages' main and, indeed, only selling point. Cruise’s recent run of turkeys perhaps has left him vulnerable, but here as rocker Stacee Jaxx he acts everyone off the stage and screen with the kind of Zen-like cool the role demands. In fact, there may be touches of his career high performance as a messianic lifestyle guru in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. And yes, Cruise, just like most of the cast, proves he can sing an Eighties rock classic.
When he’s on screen the movie combusts and there’s real fun to be had, but for the rest of the time director Shankman is content to let the clichés speak for themselves. Hough and Boneta are instantly forgettable as cheesy young lovers who’ve both fetched up on the Strip to chase their Hollywood dream and even if we weren’t looking for Midnight Cowboy, perhaps a small degree of character development and sparky dialogue might have been in order.
These young kids both work in The Bourbon Room, a seedy rawk club where the boys look like girls and the girls are visions in pink frosted lipstick, stone-washed denim, and bubble perms. The joint is run by Alec Baldwin, a man who’s clearly been working the Strip since its hippie heyday, and his Limey sidekick Russell Brand, the go-to Brit in Hollywood, who merely trots out his tiresome rock star wannabe shtick, only this time with a thick Brummie accent. Both Baldwin and Brand have proved their comic talents in the past but the 12A script lets them down badly and not even their love duet raises much of a snigger.
Other than the Cruiser, the other big gun here is Catherine Zeta-Jones. She plays the requisite Tipper Gore of the piece, there to close down this modern day Sodom and Gomorrah, and she does a good job as the conniving political wife who is far smarter than her town Mayor husband. Paul Giamatti comes off best as Jaxx’s needling, low-life manager.
The soundtrack does rawk, with big production renditions by the cast of songs by Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, and Whitesnake. But this story of love, life and power ballads in Eighties LA was done before and much better in Rockstar, the little-seen-but-dopily-funny tale of the rise and fall of a music icon, starring Mark Wahlberg.
While worth a look for the Cruiser's creepily spot-on performance, Rock of Ages never makes up its mind whether it wants to be an extended episode of Glee or a funny movie about a very naff era in music history. It did, however, remind me of one very important life lesson: the Eighties weren’t just rubbish in retrospect; they were rubbish at the time.