Watching the musical movie “Rock of Ages” was like dully observing a plain rock concert occasionally agitated by its more famous guest performers. I had a little interest in its main plot, but I and the other audiences at the screening room were delighted whenever its colorful supporting characters stole the show, and my disappointment with the film was a little bit lessened by the spirited performances from the actors playing them.
No, I do not mean that the young leads are bad actors. As far as I can see, they are nice singers as well as good actors, but, boy, their story is as corny as the flawed music movies from the era which “Rock of Ages” looks back with nostalgic affection. For instance, when it is around the end of its Act 1, the hero sees the girl he loves coming out of the room with a notorious rock star, so he thinks she has a sex with him. We all know that all he has to do is asking her what happened, but he instead treats her harshly and breaks up with her, just because the movie needs the conflict to be resolved around the end of Act 2.
That notorious rock star is Stacee Jaxx, played by Tom Cruise with mercilessly daring comic performance. Stacee recently announces the disassemble of his group for going solo, and he is going to have a farewell performance at the Bourbon Bar, a famous rock club on the Sunset Strip in LA. To its owner Dennis Dupress(Alec Baldwin with long hair) and his assistant Lonny(Russell Brand), this is a good opportunity for reviving their business, though they know Stacee is notorious for not appearing on the schedule despite the efforts of Stacee’s agent Paul Gill(Paul Giamatti with ponytail).
Meanwhile, there is a force threatening the Bourbon Bar outside, represented by Patricia Whitmore(Catherine Zeta-Jones). Her ineffectual husband Mike(Bryan Cranston) recently becomes the mayor of LA, and they are going to get rid of the Bourbon Bar for their major backer who wants the Sunset strip area for his business. Her plan: with the moral support from church-going ladies and other Christian groups, she labels rock music as a satanic influence to the society to put pressure on Dennis and others. With her personal agenda revealed later, she is very determined to smash rock music along with Stacee.
But the central story is about the relationship between Sherrie Christian(Julianne Hough) and Drew Boley(Diego Boneta). Sherri is a small town girl from Oklahoma, and she is full of optimism when she arrives to LA by bus with her plucky song, but she gets her suitcase robbed not so long after she gets off the bus. Fortunately, Drew is around there when she is robbed, and she is luckily hired by Dupree thanks to Drew’s kindness. While working together at Dupree’s club, they get close to each other, so we get a musical number between them at the Tower Record shop, where LPs and cassettes are sold instead of CDs(The background of the story is 1987, by the way).
Their romance goes through the route we have encountered countless time before in other films. Drew, an aspiring singer like Sherrie, has stage fright, but he manages to get a chance for his breakthrough during Stacee’s farewell concert while Sherrie is advised by her co-worker at the same time that she should not trust musician lover. When things like that are set up in the movie, seasoned audiences like me already see what kind of trouble will happen during the concert.
And the musical scenes in the movie curiously feel flat and distant except few moments. The director Adam Shankman’s previous film “Hairspray”(2007) had some static aspects, but that flaw was compensated by its bouncing energy. In case of this film, the music is nice, but the camerawork and editing are frequently devoid of energy, and I felt like being stuck in a small place during the musical sequences at the Bourbon Bar. The opening sequence does not look as excited as it should be, and I felt that Julianne Hough’s singing was frequently overwhelmed by background music.
As a consequence, I have to tell you that I was considerably bored even before Act I ended, but the supporting characters ultimately save me and the film from boredom. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are delightfully funny as the characters who have been blind to the bond between them, and they have a hilariously sweet musical number when they suddenly realize they care about each other more than they have thought. Catherine Zeta-Jones, who won Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the musical film “Chicago”(2002), clearly enjoys her own song and dance scene for brandishing the obnoxious side of her character(too bad Bryan Cranston does not sing with her), and Paul Giamatti also sings a little bit while having a fun with his character’s weary sleaziness.
And there is Tom Cruise, who took a lot of chance with his wacky character for full comic effect. He is downright hilarious right from his first appearance with that outrageous accessory on his codpiece. The movie draws some humor from two big mountainous bodyguards and one monkey who usually accompany him, and Cruise does not mind at all about looking silly and weird; he even makes a savage fun of his image outside the movie. Later he has a raunchy musical scene with Malin Akerman, who plays a reporter from the Rolling Stones magazine coming to him for an exclusive interview; considering his status as a star actor, this certainly must have required lots of bravery as much as the stunt at the Burj Khalifa building.
Like “Hairspray”, “Rock of Ages” was originally a Broadway musical. On the stage, you can get away with many things including weak story or characters as long as you have good musical numbers and choreographs, but the circumstance is a lot different when the stage musical is transferred to the screen. The flaws in the story are no longer covered in most cases, “Rock of Ages” is no exception; I like some of its rock songs, but I was getting bored with the story, and the movie feels bland on the whole. Fortunately, the energy from the lively supporting characters prevented me from getting tired, and I enjoyed their fun performances in spite of my disappointments toward with the film. So, we can say that the movie rocks – partially.