Rock of Ages boasts more hairspray than braincells

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Rock of Ages, movies
Rock of Ages: Clad in backless leather trousers and swaggering onto the stage, Tom Cruise gives his all

It doesn’t exactly crowd-surf on a wave of good-will, but the latest jukebox musical Rock of Ages at least remains a watchable oddity. This $70 million adaptation of the 1980s-themed stage musical has an advantage over its predecessor Mamma Mia, in that the cast do make a passable effort to sing, namely ace-in-the-hole Tom Cruise. Compare that to the sight of Pierce Brosnan butchering Abba’s hit SOS, a scene which seemed to extend a subliminal challenge to the audience: how far would you go to accept an actor who can’t carry a tune?

But while Rock of Ages doesn’t have that problem, it has one inherent to many musical adaptations. The quality of the stage production itself is best left to those who are familiar with it but on screen, the physical edits between scenes come crashing down like automated doors on the Starship Enterprise, dividing the film into episodic bits which don’t come together. Whereas a live stage production has the illusion of spontaneity, the film version of Rock of Ages is an incoherent jumble of scenes linked only by the whiff of bouffant hair spray.

One of these segments features singer Julianne Hough as a small town girl (livin’ in a lonely world…) who’s recently arrived in Los Angeles looking for a new life. After being mugged, she’s promptly offered a job at the legendary music venue The Bourbon Room by an aspiring musician (Diego Boneta) whom she promptly falls in love with. Very promptly – within 15 minutes they’re almost full-blown lovers.

Another segment focuses on Alec Baldwin as the owner of The Bourbon Room who is banking on an appearance from legendary rock artist Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) to pay off his debts.

Lurking around the periphery are Paul Giamatti as Cruise’s slimy manager (we know this due to presence of beard AND ponytail) and Catherine Zeta Jones as the scheming wife of mayor Bryan Cranston. She wants The Bourbon Room closed and the Strip cleaned up for good. Russell Brand meanwhile appears as Baldwin’s cohort and manages to get away with changing to a Brummie accent midway through. It appears the crew really did stop believin’ –  in continuity.

Credit where it’s due: Hairspray director Adam Shankman knows how to capture the ’80s on-screen in all its strobe-lit, big-haired glory so at least the film has an enjoyably cheesy visual sense. Likewise, the cast do appear comfortable belting out the likes of Def Leppard, Journey and Bon Jovi, but the only one really giving it his all is Cruise.

Clad in backless leather trousers and swaggering onto the stage, it’s another risk for the megastar with no formal singing training and although it’s generous to describe his vocals as brilliant, he is convincing, as well as an enjoyably sleazy presence, neither completely likeable nor entirely repulsive. He’s also the best thing in the movie, the real Jukebox Hero amid the ensemble, so much so that when he’s off-screen, the drama sags, and no amount of watchable karaoke from the rest of the cast can make up for that.

It’s also never clear whether the movie intends to send up the tackiness of the era or revel in the sea of ‘sweat, ear-shattering music and puke’ as Baldwin puts it. But, just as many hits from the era compelled people to listen, so the film compels people to watch.

What it all adds up to on the other hand is anyone’s guess. You’d have just as much fun, if not moreso, donning a pair of shoulder pads and sticking your iPod playlist on full blast.

[imdblt]Rock of Ages[/imdblt]