Rock of Ages is a 2-hour visual mix tape of some of the most beloved songs of the Rock ‘n’ Roll era. The film is as shallow as it gets when it comes to rehashing the used-and-abused plot line, which comes with an overdose of boob and crotch jokes. Although you won’t find anything memorable between songs, the covers will keep you entertained throughout the film especially if you love 70s and 80s music.
The film begins with Julianne Hough (as Sherrie Christian) riding a bus to LA. She’s leaving her small town behind in hopes of becoming a singer. If this plot reminds you of the theme of Burlesque or any number of musical films then you’re spot on. The opening song on the bus gives you a flavor for the movie. Sherrie begins to sing about her dreams. Then, every passenger on the bus, from the driver to the little girl sitting in front of Sherrie, picks up a line from the song to sing to her as if it were a conversation. Similar to most musical films of this genre, there is a lot of cutting back and forth between characters and story arcs depending on the relevancy of every song line.
Most of the gags revolve around literal representations of song lyrics. For instance, when Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), an egotistical singer who is getting ready to go solo, meets a reporter from Rolling Stone Magazine, he calls himself a cowboy. Jaxx then sings Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”. When he gets to the line, “I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride,” you see Jaxx riding, very literally, on a metal keg to represent the steel horse. This Looney Tunes mechanic works throughout the film and keeps the comedy upbeat. However, when the music stops so does your interest.
So much of the film is dedicated to spoofing the cover songs that it seems moronic when they script actually tries to be sincere between songs. You don’t care about Sherrie or Drew (Diego Boneta), the bartender and aspiring singer she falls in love with when she gets to LA. Nor do you care about Jaxx’s solo-career crossroads. There’s also a throw away plot revolving around the Mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) trying to clean up LA. The two target the last bastion of Rock ‘n’ Roll, a club owned by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin). On a positive note, seeing Zeta-Jones and her band of right wing, Christian women performing Michael Jackson dances is quite funny.
Viewers shouldn’t expect tongue and cheek humor, but rather an egregious overload of Cruise’s tongue and a whole lot of crotch. As Jaxx, he’s prone to grabbing the chest of guys and gals alike. It’s actually funny when he does it to Paul Giamatti, but overall the forced humor falls flat. There’s also a scene where Jaxx spreads Malin Akerman legs as wide as he can multiple times just to look at it.
The highlight of the film is in the relationship between Alec Baldwin, the owner of Sunset Strip’s number one Rock ‘n’ Roll venue, and his assistant Lonny (Russell Brand). The two keep the story lively with Brand’s foolish antics and Baldwin’s natural, straight-laced humor. Watching the odd couple helps you to forget that their story arc is also a rehash. Baldwin is trying to hold one last concert to keep his venue open.
Mary J. Blige kicks the music into high gear about halfway through the film. When Blige shows up as the owner of a strip club, it’s the first time you feel like any of the song actually have any heart in them. Even when she sings just one or two lines, you know that it’s all Mary and not a bad dub.
Overall, Rock of Ages remains a fun, one-time watch for music lovers. It’s a solid collection of Rock ‘n’ Roll cover songs with enough one-beat jokes to keep you entertained. It would be nice if you could fast-forward through some of the non-musical dialogue, but alas you’ll have to wait until the home video release for that gift.