Tom Cruise in "Rock of Ages"
Rock of Ages
Ah, the Hollywood musical. The genre is a mixed bag of jewels and junk. Some films strike a chord with viewers ("West Side Story," "Chicago") while others are off-key ("Nine"). Adapting a Broadway show for the big screen is no easy task, and director Adam Shankman ("Hairspray") -- an accomplished dancer and choreographer -- deserves credit for what is clearly a passionate effort in "Rock of Ages."
But musicals are something of an acquired taste, and "Rock" is more cheeseburger than lobster bisque. There is a silliness to the whole affair (partially intended) that makes it difficult to get very invested in the plot -- though Tom Cruise's magnetic performance in itself almost makes the movie worth the price of admission. Almost.
Aspiring (and alarmingly naive) singer Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough of "Burlesque") takes the bus from Oklahoma to Los Angeles to jumpstart her music career. Sherrie scores a job at popular nightclub The Bourbon Room thanks to pretty-boy barback Drew (Diego Boneta of TV's "90210" reboot), who is clearly smitten with the bombshell out-of-towner. Romantic ties develop quickly for Sherrie and Drew as The Bourbon and its owner (a grungy Alec Baldwin as Dennis Dupree) prepare for the arrival of rock band Arsenal and its sex-symbol leading man, Stacee Jaxx (Cruise).
The actors belt out one iconic 1980s rock tune after another (think Guns N' Roses, Def Leppard and Poison) as Sherrie and Drew's relationship rides the rollercoaster and Jaxx's antics prove increasingly unpredictable. The film suffers a bit beneath its PG-13 rating and purposely ignores some very adult aspects of the 1980s rock 'n' roll scene. "Rock" seems primarily tuned toward the teenage crowd with its soap opera-esque love story and stagy undertones (although the film has a certain "sexiness" that defies its teen-friendly core)
Some of the actors shine more than others. Paul Giamatti and Russell Brand are fantastic as Jaxx's agent and Dupree's confidante, respectively, though relative newcomer Boneta is clearly out of his depth. Perhaps part of the problem is that the younger actors seem so green compared to seasoned pros Baldwin, Cruise and Giamatti.
To say Cruise steals the show is an understatement -- he purloins it with the gusto of a treasure-hungry pirate. Viewers are used to seeing Cruise mostly as an action hero, but every so often he veers out of his comfort zone and delivers a bravura performance like this that sets the audience abuzz (roles in "Magnolia" and "Tropic Thunder" also jump to mind). In fact, the entire cast seems to be having fun, which becomes somewhat contagious (I'll admit to some extemporaneous toe-tapping).
However, like many musicals, "Rock" fares better on stage. The story suffers beneath all of the prancing and verse, and a movie without story is like a single-string guitar. It just doesn't play well and grows tiresome in a hurry.
Read story about director Adam Shankman
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language, some heavy drinking and suggestive dancing. 2 hours, 3 minutes.
- Tyler Hanley