Soaked in kitschy 80s nostalgia, Rock of Ages is a goofy movie-musical that’s hard to resist. The film’s charm lies not in its familiar premise – of a small-town girl who arrives in the City of Dreams to become a star – but in its mix-tape soundtrack of rock-and-roll hits belted out by the film’s cast, and in the outrageous, incredible performance of Tom Cruise.
Adapted from a popular Broadway musical, the film, set in 1987, opens with Sherrie (Julianne Hough), a starry-eyed Oklahoma girl who, within moments of stepping off the bus in Los Angeles, is robbed of her belongings. She’s befriended by bartender-cum-aspiring-musician Drew (Diego Boneta), who gets her a job waiting tables at the Bourbon Room, once a rock music haven currently facing bankruptcy. Even as romance blossoms between the young hopefuls, Bourbon Room owner Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and his trusted aide Lonny (Russel Brand) struggle to save the place by hosting a mother-of-all gigs by debauched rock god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), despite much opposition from the mayor’s moralistic wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who’s determined to ‘clean up’ Sunset Strip.
Most likely to appeal to those who grew up on the head-banging tunes of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Foreigner, Journey and more, Rock of Ages works as something of a guilty pleasure – an enjoyable trip down memory lane, despite its contrived, by-the-numbers plot that seems to exist only as an excuse to jam in all these songs. There are flashes of humor too, much of it provided by Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin whose romantic rendition of “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” will have you chuckling in amusement.
But it’s Tom Cruise – long-haired, bare-chested, heavily tattooed, and sporting aviators and a fur jacket – who steals every scene he’s in, thanks both to his unmatched charisma and his surprisingly strong singing voice. You’ll find your pulse racing as he breaks into “I Wanna Know What Love Is”, during an unexpectedly steamy ‘interview’ with a Rolling Stone hack.
Too long by at least 20 minutes, and silly on more occasions than one, Rock of Ages is far from perfect. But the actors appear to be having a good time, and the enthusiasm is infectious. I’m going with three out of five for director Adam Shankman’s Rock of Ages. For the music alone, this one’s worth a watch. Wanna bet you’ll come out humming the tunes?