Rock of Ages (2012)

Rock of Ages (2012) – The vast majority of my reviews tend to be positive, in case you hadn’t noticed. Or rather they range from lukewarm appreciation to outright enthusiastic. Some bad ones slip in but overall they’re favorable. I do indeed like most movies I see. That’s usually because if a movie looks like I’m not going to like it, I don’t go see it. No one pays me for this film criticism thing; it’s just a hobby. I am therefore under no obligation to sit through movies I don’t want to. Every now and then, however, you see a trailer for a movie that looks like a total train wreck and you just can’t look away. You want to slow down, rubberneck, and take in the devastation. Now I’ve mentioned before that I come from a strange and magical time called the 1980s so when I saw an ad for a jukebox musical feature Glee-style versions on hair metal classics… well I may have thrown up in my mouth a little bit. It’s not like hair metal is the musical form with the most integrity to begin with but this treatment just seems… wrong, somehow.

Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is just a small town girl… living in her- no fuck this, if I keep quoting lyrics this review is going to be painfully long… Anyway Sherrie comes to Los Angeles from Oklahoma to make it in the music industry. She meets fellow aspiring rock star Drew (Diego Boneta), a bar back at the infamous Bourbon Room. The club is owned by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and co-run by his faithful sidekick Lonny (Russell Brand). Meanwhile the Mayor (Bryan Cranston because why the hell not) is looking to shut down the Bourbon Room so he can sell the real estate to a local developer. To accomplish this he enlists the aid of his wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to stir up a moral outrage at the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll lifestyle. Said lifestyle is embodied by the lead singer of the band Arsenal, Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), who is playing at the Bourbon Room for one last show before he goes solo. A reporter from Rolling Stone (Malin Akerman) is there to interview Jaxx. His manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) is just there to wring every last dollar he can from Stacee… and possibly Drew. Also, people sing a lot.

The film is filled with people who can kind of sing well. Like if I heard them at the karaoke bar (and damn do I loves me some karaoke) I would say “hey, they’re pretty good.” But when I a paying money to hear someone sing, I expect more. I still think there is something very likable about Julianne Hough and that she will go far. Her Britney Spears-ish voice just isn’t right for the material. Ditto Diego Boneta, who seems to have that quality all the young girls like these days. Then you get people like Giamatti and Baldwin who aren’t singers and shouldn’t try. Catherine Zeta-Jones actually seemed to have a better time singing than speaking. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her in a movie where she has that much trouble with her accent slipping. Tom Cruise has a better voice than you would expect but it is still not cut out for this style of music and is probably the weakest of the main cast, which is bad since a lot of the movie is built around him. I also find it odd that he’s playing an insane rock star but he never really comes off half as insane as real-life Tom Cruise. Malin Akerman… well she looks a lot like a girl I used to be pretty into so I tend to cut her slack… (hey, I’m not perfect). Russell Brand actually has the best ROCK voice of the cast, which really shouldn’t be much of a surprise after Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek. Of course around halfway through the movie Mary J. Blige shows up as the owner of a strip club to demonstrate “oh this is what some who can REALLY SING” sounds like. She nails it, but it makes everyone else sound worse in comparison. Cranston’s roll is non-singing and more a callback to the wackiness of his earlier career before he became such a serious TV meth dealer. Also I think in maybe about 30 seconds of screen time, T.J. Miller was funnier than just about anyone else in the movie… on purpose too!

Parts of the movie are laughably bad and the movie really works best as an unintentional comedy. I have a problem with the television show Glee because they frequently play whatever they can that’s popular without it fitting the narrative of the show… Rock of Ages has kind of the opposite problem. They seem to have built the entire narrative around the preexisting songs. This means I, and others in the theater, let out a laugh when certain songs started, like “ha, of course.” The laughs come at the expense of the film’s clumsiness rather than any intentional humor. I kind of think I enjoy the movie more in an alternate interpretation where young Sherrie is failing miserably and all the musical numbers and rock star dreams are her delusional brains way of coping with failure… then again that’s putting way too much thought into a movie where clearly no one else bothered putting that much thought into it… The other thing is this movie goes on far too long. You will think to yourself, just as the cast starts singing it, “will the movie never end? It goes on and on and on and on…” There is some idiotic entertainment value to Rock of Ages, the kind best enjoyed with quick-witted smart-ass friends and a decent supply of alcohol… but make no mistake, this movie is pretty awful. It’s really just up to you if you feel like watching the train wreck.

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