Sometimes being entertained happens in the most unexpected way. On first thought, a musical in itself is enough to make the toes curl, but one sold on dodgy rock anthems of yesteryear, overly camp costumes and cringe mullets will divide opinion further. However, go into Rock of Ages without any high expectations or an ounce of experience of the stage musical, and Hairspray’s Adam Shankman certainly knows how to put on one of the silliest, futile but crowd-pleasing shows in the town.
Small town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and city boy Drew (Diego Boneta, he of 90210) meet on the Sunset Strip while pursuing their Hollywood dream of making it big in the rock business. But fame does not come easy at first and their fate has a destiny with flamboyant superstar rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) and unscrupulous agents. Their rock ‘n’ roll romance pounds to the hits of Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Whitesnake and more.
The aim of this puffed up rocking panto is not to take it too seriously, and just enjoy the ensemble cast having a ball at being utterly outrageous. For those of you who spotted the younger, fresher ‘Jen Aniston’ dead ringer Hough in the remake of Footloose – notice a musical pattern here for former ballroom dancer Hough – can again sigh over her heavenly charms and sweet, naïve nature in this as she grapples with the evils of the big city like a lost, latter-day fairy-tale belle. It’s hard not to like all-American gal Sherrie who alongside Drew need as much encouragement as possible on the rocky road of love and navigating the cringeable, tongue-in-cheek script.
The film has its cry-out-loud funny episodes, such as the duet between Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), the near-bankrupted owner of the hippest rock club in town, The Bourbon Room, and his ‘British’ sidekick Lonny (Russell Brand). To get to this particular gem of daftness, you have to endure an annoyingly insipid Brand in a far less interesting rocker role than his Get Him To The Greek one. In fact, the funniest thing about Lonny is not meant to be: his ever-changing accent from Liverpudlian to Brummie to Cockney, like some multiple personality disorder sufferer.
Baldwin and Paul Giamatti who plays devious agent Paul Gill offer the film’s variations of sleaze but are like immensely entertaining, sad old middle-aged men, while a ‘pinched looking’ Catherine Zeta-Jones gets into her old Chicago glad rags and high-kicking routine again will full gusto to play a prim politician’s wife with a hidden secret.
Star of the whole show is Cruise who adopts another screen-grabbing caricature, like the one in Tropic Thunder. Cruise knows how to pull off ‘weirdo’ in spades, dressed much like a spaced out version of 80s Guns n’ Roses legend Axl Rose with the sulky attitude of guitarist Slash. As conceited as Stacee Jaxx is, Cruise does try to go for the ‘little boy lost’ to the perils of fame effect so we naturally end up rooting for the rock monster. And boy, what antics: there is quite a raunchy number between him and Malin Akerman as music journo Constance Sack at one point that might make some parents accompanying minors blush in their presence.
Nevertheless, Rock of Ages is undeniably outrageous good fun with another standout comedic act from Cruise. If nothing else, those who remember the 80s the first time around will be head banging and toe tapping to the memorable beats while reminiscing about fashion’s biggest period of faux pas items. That’s the glee of the whole big, dopey, hairy, sweaty and loud fiasco.