Saturday, 16 June 2012

Rock of Ages 2012

When Tom Cruise appeared on Jonathan Ross's couch a few months back to promote his most recent Mission: Impossible venture, he briefly spoke about Rock of Ages and I knew then that I had to watch the film. As much respect as I have for Cruise's serious acting efforts, I seem to appreciate him most when he plays slightly dirty, bad-guy characters. Case in point: Lestat in Interview with the Vampire (1994), Frank in Magnolia (1999) and, more recently, legendary Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder (2008). So, he was my sole point of interest in this film, but as it turns out, there was more on offer here than just one of the most powerful stars in Hollywood today.

Based on a very successful Broadway musical of the same name, Rock of Ages is set in the late 80s and tells the story of Sherrie (Julianne Hough), a young girl from Oklahoma, who moves to Los Angeles to pursue a singing career. Here she meets aspiring musician, Drew (Diego Boneta), who works as a bartender at The Bourbon Room and he gets her a job as a waitress at the famous club. Drew and Sherrie quickly develop 'feelings' for each other and are almost blissful. Enter notoriously debauched rockstar, Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), who is due to perform at The Bourbon Room, and Drew's band is roped in to open his concert. Stacee finds time before his performance to first harass and then woo Rolling Stone reporter, 'Constance Sack' (Malin Ackerman). Due to a series of unfortunate incidents, Drew thinks it is Sherrie that Stacee has just slept with and, heartbroken, he mistreats her and tries to get famous by 'selling his soul to the devil', who in this case is Stacee's very corrupt manager, Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti). Rejected and humiliated, Sherrie quits her job and starts working as a pole dancer just to make money. More disasters ensue in everyone's life and there are other sub-plots: one with club owner Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and club manager Lonny (Russell Brand), another with the mayor's puritanical wife, Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and yet another involving a dance bar owner, Justice (Mary J. Blige). But this is a musical after all - and the right partners get together in the end, with happiness and success all around.

Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta can certainly sing, but neither is really an actor. They go through the motions and are not exactly terrible, but that is where 'praise' for them ends. Thankfully, this is just ostensibly their story, and the actual work is done by the stellar 'supporting role' actors. Paul Giamatti is sufficiently slimy, Alec Baldwin is ever-endearing, Russell Brand (who is really growing on me) is smart and sweet, and Malin Ackerman mixes geeky and gorgeous with absolute ease. I wish I could continue in this manner for Mary J. Blige and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but I really, really can not. The former, with her admittedly extraordinary voice, is more wooden than Pinocchio (she practically makes Cher look emotive) and the latter is ageing so badly that her lack of acting ability stands out even more than ever before.

Anyhow, it is the main attraction of the film, in every sense of the word, who deserves  special attention. Tom Cruise is mind-blowing. I wish he had done this role ten years ago, when he was younger and had the face and body that would have made his 'Rock God' performance even more convincing - but even at this age, he is the right choice. He's a little Axl Rose, a little Alice Cooper, and of course a little every-other-major-rockstar-that-ever-lived. Everything - from his hair to his make-up, from his expressions to his body language, from his stance to his tattoos - is pure magic. The screen crackles when he's on it and I lived from scene to scene just to see him. It's true that Stacee Jaxx is the main highlight of this musical - but it is Tom Cruise, effortlessly playing Stacee Jaxx, that is just a little more special.

Finally the other star of the film - the music. Yes, they're mostly remixes and covers of 70s/80s rock, but that's the best thing about it. You know and love all the songs and are dying to sing along. And all the actors can sing - they really can. Unlike Mamma Mia (2008), where you just cut them some slack because they seemed to be having fun, this soundtrack is a lot riskier. Rock fans will not put up with the slaughter of their anthems. So, I'm grateful that everyone has the voice (or the supporting studio back up) to make it all work. And Tom Cruise is actually good. He's no Jon Bon Jovi or Axl Rose, but he's good.

Overall, the film has lots of weaknesses. Anybody who has seen the stage musical (I haven't) will probably find this to be a cheap imitation, anyway. Some of the dialogue is so bad a third-grader could do better and the premise is terribly stale and dated. If it's directly lifted from the stage musical, then all I can say is that it may very well work on stage, but on film it falls flat way too many times. There's nothing new on offer here and nothing smart to make you forget you've seen all this before.

And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed it! Yes, there's no accounting for bad taste!

It's cheesy and predictable, but it's fun and familiar too. The star power is definitely a huge draw - and I would fully recommend it for the nostalgic music and 'the' Tom Cruise. But please watch it at your own risk and with lowered expectations. You have been warned that this is an imperfect film, which can be lots of fun if you let it take you for a silly ride.


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