Featuring a soundtrack filled with seventies and eighties hard rock songs that’s like a two-hour drive listening to a Classic Rock station, and some deeply silly performances by Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand and Tom Cruise, Rock of Ages is a film musical that can never be accused of taking itself too seriously. Where this PG-rated adaptation of a hit Broadway show, adapted by Adam Shankman (Hairspray) falls down is by being far too mild for its supposedly outrageous subject.
The year is 1987 and small town Oklahoma gal, Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) is travelling by bus to Los Angeles to become a rock singer. After a singalong of Night Ranger’s Sister Christian, she hits the Sunset Strip, and meets cute, curly-haired Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) an aspiring metal singer who gets her a job at the legendary Bourbon Room. The financially troubled club is run by middle-aged rocker Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his technician Lonny (Russell Brand), who are facing opposition from the mayor’s rock-hating wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Without the singalong campy energy of the live musical to justify its two-hour running length, Rock of Ages feels choppy, the story disconnected and wispy thin. We never really attach to the tale of the callow but unengaging Sherrie and Drew. Between Julianne Hough’s baby-breath vocals and Diego Boneta’s puppy-eyed gazes, the spirit is more High School Musical than Welcome to the Jungle.
Otherwise, thanks to the supporting cast, it’s a movie of some okay comic moments but no momentum: The mayor’s wife holds a particular animosity toward rocker and rock sex god, Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), whose celebrity could also save the nightclub. With his fixed, glassy gaze, Cruise seems less louche than loco, though he initially makes an impression, appearing bare buttocks first. Later, when it comes to belting out songs like Jon Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive, he shows off credible rock-star moves and a singing voice, but he generates little sexual heat. A bit more of Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter would have gone a long way here to suggest why men stare and women faint when he stumbles into a room.
A shaggy Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are amusing, as they discover their mutual affection for more things than whisky and guitar solos when they duet on REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight this Feeling. But the closest the film gets to genuine raunch is an erotic encounter between Stacee and a Rolling Stone journalist in which Canadian actor Malin Akerman spirals her tongue into Cruise’s ear. But three or four good licks do not a power ballad make, and Rock of Ages is more likely to leave fans of the music hanging rather than banging their heads.