Monday 11 June 2012

Rock of Ages review

Rock of Ages (12A/PG-13, 123 mins)
Director: Adam Shankman
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The director of Hairspray returns with this peppy rock musical adapted from the successful stage show. It’s a proper musical too, wherein the characters are constantly bursting into song, the selling point being that all the numbers are covers of rock classics from the likes of Foreigner and REO Speedwagon. It’s kinda like Mamma Mia except, you know, good.

The most threadbare of plots is set in 1987, as small-town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) arrives in Los Angeles from Oklahoma with dreams of stardom. She gets a job in a club and meets Drew (Diego Boneta), another aspiring singer, and soon they're in love.

And to be honest, that pretty much it. But it’s everything that’s happening around them that drives the movie forward. Get a pair of bland leads and surround them with a larger than life support, like Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as the guys who run the club, with the unlikely pair generating great warmth as they share one of the film’s more surprising numbers. Then there’s Catherine Zeta Jones who gets involved in a largely redundant subplot, as the mayor’s wife campaigning to save the city from the evils of rock and roll.

But there’s a secret weapon still waiting to be unleashed, and that weapon is Tom Cruise. As debauched rock star Stacee Jaxx, who is due to play his final gig at Baldwin’s club, he makes his entrance emerging from underneath a pile of women like a cross between his Frank Mackey in Magnolia and Gary Oldman’s Dracula.

Tattooed, spaced out, swaggering, and seemingly allergic to shirts, it’s an inspired piece of casting, since it would have been very easy to go the obvious route and give the role to Brand. He can sing too, and as he sweats and gyrates while belting out Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive and Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me, Cruise makes for a thoroughly convincing rock god.

What perhaps lets the film down is the sometimes uninspired staging of some of the numbers, with the visuals not always able to keep pace with the songs. And the plot does kind of run into a cul-de-sac three quarters of the way in, as everyone goes off with their own problems.

But it scores big on the songs and those singing them, and as a celebration of classic rock and a lament for its passing, and the rise of the horrible anodyne pop we’ve been stuck with for the last quarter century.

And of course you better believe Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ will get wheeled out at some stage. It all adds up to a proper crowd-pleaser, a delicious slab of cheese that, as long as you know what to expect from it, delivers in spades.

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