The Review: “Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin’ – this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin’.”
Recognise it? It’s the narration from Happy Man, the random black guy who wanders into shot like a Morgan Freeman tribute act in Pretty Woman at either end of the film. Pretty Woman has become an all time classic in many eyes, taking two unlikely bedfellows – big business and prostitution – which actually have distinct parallels. Somehow, those two feel an easier marriage than rock music and the musical, which in theory should work better together. Now, I’m an expert proponent of the air guitar, wielding an imaginary axe as well as the next man, but at the same time I’m also a fan of musical theatre (not, in this case, a euphemism), but while the two share musical notes and a tendency for the flamboyant, they feel like two magnets with the same magnetic pole, both with a strong attraction but unable to connect to each other. Can Rock Of Ages prove this theory wrong?
No. No it can’t. What Rock Of Ages actually consists of are a succession of rock standards sung in a musical style, stripping away the essence of what made them great in the first place. There’s a few, like Extreme’s “More Than Words” that have a softer rock style which make an easier transition, and a couple of performances on stage where the song can be played straight rather than musical-ised. The biggest success on that front comes from the biggest film star in the world playing the biggest rock star in the world: Tom Cruise lets his hair down and has an absolute blast as Stacee Jaxx, accompanied everywhere by a baboon and ending up face down in his own swimming pool with absolute grace, he does a fair job with the big songs and it’s impossible to take your eyes off him, especially in his interview with Malin Ackerman’s smitten journalist.
The rest of the cast, not so much. Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough are utterly forgettable as the star-crossed lovers, doing a moderate job with the songs and very little else. Catherine Zeta Jones attempts to take huge chunks out of the scenery at any opportunity, sharing almost no screen time with her husband Bryan Cranston while the movie attempts to work out which of them, or indeed Paul Giamatti’s manager, should be the antagonist. Most of the laughs, such as they are, are left to Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin as the rock promoters, and if you can get past Brand’s accent – attempting to do for Birmingham accents what Dick Van Dyke did for Cockernees – then he and Baldwin make a reasonable double act, especially in their unexpected duet.
The key difference between the likes of Pretty Woman, and indeed director Adam Shankman’s previous work on the Hairspray remake and the episodes of Glee he’s directed, are that there’s a sense of fun sorely lacking in places. Rock Of Ages has neither the true camp value of the best tongue-in-cheek musicals or the best rock performances, and there are long stretches where you long for something – anything – interesting or just plain different to happen. Overall it’s enjoyable, but it’s unlikely to be inspiring singalongs in London cinemas twenty years from now, and the plot is so simplistic that it struggles to justify the two hour run time. The key similarity between this and Pretty Woman are how dangerously easy it is to fall into the sex industry in Hollywood; apparently a few days working in a bar, hanging round on the Hollywood sign and some relationship difficulties are just about enough to push you over the edge. Take heed, any young girls – some dreams come true, some don’t, but keep on dreaming. Just make sure it’s a dull sex dream with Tom Cruise in it.
Why see it at the cinema: Russell Brand’s Woilver’ampton accent has to be heard to be believed, and there are a couple of good songs sung well (as well as several more good songs sung quite averagely). If you hoped never to hear Journey’s now ubiquitous Don’t Stop Believing again as long as you lived, then move right along, nothing to see here.
The Score: 6/10