Movie Review: Rock Of Ages

I was lucky enough to score an invite to preview Rock Of Ages, the Broadway musical turned movie, in May. I'm a bit of a theatre geek, and I've seen the touring show with Constantine Maroulis, AND I own the original cast recording, so it's a story I'm pretty familiar with. Needless to say, I was pretty happy about the invite to see this particular film.

I'm not going to lie, I went in with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I firmly believe that there was some miscasting, namely in the form of Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin. Now, I love love LOVE Alec Baldwin. I think the man is incredibly talented, and very very funny. However, I just don't see him as the long-haired hippie rocker club owner. And Tom Cruise plays Stacee Jaxx, the slightly past-his-prime giant 1980s rock star. And my first thought, on hearing that he was cast in this role was, "Really?" More on these two in just a minute.

The premise of the story is this: in 1987 a young girl, Sherrie Christian (played by Julianne Hough, one of the professional dancers from Dancing With The Stars) jumps on a bus and moves from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Los Angeles to make her fortune as a singer. Once there she meets Drew (played by Diego Boneta from Pretty Little Liars and the new version of 90210) who gets her a job at a famous rock club on the Sunset Strip. The club is owned by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and managed by Lonnie (Russell Brand). Legendary rock star Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) is set to play his final show with his band, they're under protest by the new Mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his conservative firebrand wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Stacee's manager (played by Paul Giamatti) is just trying to get Stacee to show up to work and lands an interview for Stacee with a Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman) to kick off Stacee's new solo career. And the whole thing is a musical story set to kick ass '80s music: songs by REO Speedwagon, Poison, Bon Jovi, Guns 'N' Roses and so on.

Whew. I went through all that to show that director Adam Shankman (director of another big movie musical, Hairspray) lined up one hell of a big, talented cast. And it's pretty clear that everyone involved was having a blast. Julianne Hough is ADORABLE as big ole blonde naive Sherrie. And girl can sing. I did find it funny that she doesn't have much dancing in the film though, as she's a fabulous dancer. But I expect this role will get her much future work. Diego Boneta, who I'd never seen before, is also adorable. Big ole brown puppy dog eyes and so earnest and likable. You really believe it when he sings those cheesy '80s love ballads. Great casting for both those two. Catherine Zeta-Jones (who looks smoking hot by the way) chews the scenery with great relish and really works her big dance number. Malin Akerman is such a good sport, and kind of shocked me with her singing. She has some seriously wrong scenes with Tom Cruise and I love her willingness to put herself out there for a laugh. She's hilarious. Paul Giamatti is just lovely as usual, Bryan Cranston is a bit hammy and under-used. I've decided that I just adore Russell Brand and will watch him in just about anything. And that brings us back to Alec and Tom. So, Alec was... okay. He had genuinely entertaining chemistry with Russell Brand. I kind of want to see a buddy comedy with these two now. I just think I see him as Jack Donaghy (30 Rock) now and it's my issue and not everyone's.

And then there's Tom Cruise.

He's being billed as the star of the show and they definitely beefed up his role for the film. I had a huge major crush on Maverick from Top Gun back in the day and Tom was always on my gorgeous actors list. And then he got... well, weird and uncomfortable. Not weird and uncomfortable like, say, Mel Gibson, but still, uncomfortable. And so again, it can be hard to sort out the personal feelings from the performance. I'm still going with miscast though. About 3/4 of the way through the film it occurred to me that it's like watching your dad strip and try to be funny and sexy. It's just awkward. I'll give him credit: he works his ass off in this film. It's definitely a departure for him a a role and he went full out for it. His opening costume? Wow. Gutsy. And hilarious. And kind of "Dad! Ew! Put your shirt on!" But full credit: he went big and the audience around me laughed quite a lot. There's definitely humor in seeing an actor who generally plays it straight going for screwball broke in a comedy, and Tom vamps it as hard as he can. And for me, it really did feel like he was trying a little too hard. I'd love to hear what other people thought. And he's a better rock singer than I was expecting. Here's a sample of Tom's cover of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me""

If you're a fan of the stage show and are wondering about changes, yes, there are some changes. A few new songs, some stuff was cut (like the kind of odd German father/son team), and no slurpees or Michigan hand gestures. But it's a pretty good transfer from stage to screen. Oh and there's a pretty entertaining monkey named Hey Man that was added. A bit with a monkey is always funny. Especially when it's a big creepy baboon-looking thing. With a handgun. I'm just saying.

A lot of the folks in the theatre with me had no idea what they were going to see and the vibe after the show was that it was surprisingly fun. I heard lots of belly laughs and a few people singing along. All in all, it's nothing but a good time. If you saw the trailers and thought it looked fun, you should check it out. If you're a fan of big '80s hair music, check it out. It's a loving look at our favorite decade and they get a ton of hair and costumes hilariously right. It opens June 15th in the US.

If you want a taste of the film, check out this music video:

By the way, this is definitely rated PG-13 for raunchy content. Some of the dirty jokes might fly over younger kids but I just wanted to mention it.

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