By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s 1987 in Los Angeles. Sex, drugs, and rock-‘n’-roll are ever-present. And making it in the Hollywood rock scene in the heyday of heavy metal seems like about the most impressive thing anyone could possibly achieve.
That’s a setup for either a celebration or a sendup, a sally of either sincerity or cynicism. But this occasionally campy boy-meets-girl misfire gets caught between Rock of Ages and a hard place, and ends up in neither camp.
Adapted from the 2006 Chris D’Arienzo jukebox musical of the same title, this Broadway rock comedy about the hair-metal ’80s gathers the talent, connects the dots, and performs the covers. But it doesn’t mock the excesses of the era the way it should -– whether affectionately or not -– and never catches fire, either musically or comedically.
Juianne Hough and Diego Boneta are the romantic leads. She’s Sherrie Christian, a waitress from Oklahoma. He’s Drew Boley, an LA barback at the legendary rock club “The Bourbon Room” (which would appear to be based on Whiskey A Go Go) on the Sunset Strip. Both want to be rockers performing in the music industry.
The ensemble of stars –- Tom Cruise as rock superstar Stacee Jaxx (said to be an amalgam of Axl Rose, Keith Richards, Bret Michaels, and others), the lead singer for the group “Arsenal,” always accompanied by his pet monkey; Alec Baldwin as the owner of The Bourbon Room; Paul Giammati as Stacey’s manager ; Russell Brand as manager of The Bourbon Room; Bryan Cranston as the mayor of Los Angeles; Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mayor’s anti-rock wife, intent on closing down The Bourbon Room; Malin Akerman as a Rolling Stone reporter; and Mary J. Blige as Sherrie’s boss at The Venus Club for Gentlemen.
Director Adam Shankman (Bedtime Stories, Bringing Down the House, The Pacifier) — who was much more on his game and well-suited to the musical rock comedy Hairspray than he is here -– reduces the play’s camp factor as it moves from stage to screen.
And he’s not helped much by the adapted screenplay by D’Arienzo, Justin Theroux, and Allan Loeb, which provides little other than half-hearted filler between musical numbers.
Tunes are included from such ’80s rockers as Def Leppard, Poison, Journey, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Whitesnake, Joan Jett, Twisted Sister, REO Speedwagon, and Bon Jovi, but the numbers all seem like floats in a music-video parade.
Narrative momentum is nonexistent in this suffocatingly generic film, offering a narrative that couldn’t be more flimsy. Rock of Ages seems much more like a talent show than a movie, especially in the era of “American Idol” and televised rock shows like “Glee.”
The leads are appropriately cast, but don’t make much of an impression. Cruise has the showiest role and seems to be relishing sending up his superstar image, but he never lets his intense performance breathe comedically, so it remains one-note and runs out of steam early.
As for Zeta-Jones, whose song-and-dance talents were indelibly established in Chicago, she comes across this time as a trouper trapped in an awkward, embarrassing role.
Although it’s lively as opposed to deadly, ultimately this is a movie in search of a reason to exist.
What’s it all about? Overacting, apparently, which there’s more than enough of as performers try to fill up the vacuum in a film that substitutes energy for effectiveness.
So we’ll rock 2 stars out of 4 for Rock of Ages, a big-screen version of a rock show that’s anything but one for the ages.