Rock of Ages is based, loosely, on the 2006 show of the same name. Boy meets out of town girl, falls in love with her, acts like jerk, loses her, gets back together again. So far, so 3 minute rock song. What makes Rock of Ages entertaining is the backdrop of The Bourbon Club on Sunset Strip – a rock dive fallen on hard times and under the beady eye of the new mayor and his wife with the intention of closing it for real estate. Manager Donny has one shot at gettingthe club back on its feet with a performance by rock god Stacee Jaxx on his farewell tour with band Arsenal.
Director Adam Shankman, best known for Hairspray, has a great understanding of how to translate a stage show into a film, and the opening sequence sets out his stall perfectly, managing to capture the movement and expectation of an opening number.
It’s all good, trashy, cheesy fun. Juliana Hough as Sherrie and Diego Bonita as Drew are toothsome and talented, but this is a film that really belongs to the supporting cast. Tom Cruise as Stacee is clearly channelling Brett Michaels of Poison. He’s got the swagger, he can carry a tune and he gets to do the best kiss in cinema ever. While I’m not generally a fan, he nails this to the extent that I find myself wishing he’d played Lestat in Queen of the Damned.
Meanwhile Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mayor’s prurient wife Patty Whitehead and Alec Baldwin as bar owner Donny are clearly having an absolute blast. Zeta-Jones attacks every song in the same way she did in Chicago while Baldwin mugs shamelessly. In the musical, Lonny is the narrator and everyman, often breaking the fourth wall to directly address the audience. This conceit is dropped in the film and as such Russell Brand has little to do. Given his atrocious Brummie accent, this may be just as well. Anyone who was expecting a reprise of Aldous Snow will be disappointed and if you didn’t like Brand before it’s doubtful that this will change your mind. But he does get a fantastic duet with Baldwin that is almost worth the price of admission alone.
The song list for Rock of Ages is of course its main selling point and these absolutely shine through. While rock ballads are always troublesome, the staging for “I Wanna Know What Love Is” and “I Can’t Fight this Feeling” is particularly memorable. You could argue that musicals like Rock of Ages are made for people who don’t like musicals very much. Foreknowledge of the songs taps into the audience enjoyment, meaning that the plot/emotional attachment to characters can be paper thin and people still have a good time. Sometimes the joy of recognition outweighs the relevance. However, the number of tracks has been reduced from those in the stage show, with some of the weaker numbers removed altogether. The film still has a running time of 123 minutes which gives you plenty of bang for your buck.
This is at the higher end of the 12A rating too. BBFC refers to “moderate sex references”, but you may not want to explain pole dancing or spanking to your 7 year old. Ultimately it feels like a natural successor to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with plenty of characters to dress up as and songs you probably already know.
This isn’t a film to everyone’s tastes, far from it, but I guarantee we’ll be seeing Singalongs before the end of the summer.