Flop of ‘Ages’
“Rock of Ages”
Alec Baldwin, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tom Cruise
Directed by Adam Shankman
What if some of the biggest stars in Hollywood dressed up for an 80’s-themed karaoke party, and nobody came?
That’s likely to be the case when the word gets out about “Rock of Ages,” the big-screen version of the hit Broadway musical that’s so cringe-inducing and insufferably dreadful, it hardened my heart more than words can say, leaving me perplexed and embarrassed for all the players involved.
That’s a lot of people, including Alec Baldwin, who plays the cash-strapped owner of the pulsating Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip, circa 1987; Oscar-winner Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mayor’s conservative wife; “Dancing with the Stars” winner-turned-actress Julianne Hough as the small town girl who won’t stop believing; and none other than Tom Cruise as buffed-up and burned-out rock ‘n’ roll legend Stacee Jaxx.
That also includes co-screenwriter Justin Theroux, who scored a big comedic hit with 2008’s “Tropic Thunder” (he also co-wrote 2010’s “Iron Man 2”), and – of all people – former “Spider-Man” star Tobey Maguire, who’s listed as one of 14 credited producers and executive producers. (That’s right, it took 14 people to produce this?)
But how “Rock of Ages” turned out to be such an utter disaster after its director, Adam Shankman, knocked it out of the park with 2007’s delightful and entertaining “Hairspray” (which was also based on a smash Broadway musical) is beyond me. Though upon closer observation, there are quite a few reasons why “Rock of Ages” never really had a chance as a movie.
For one thing, “Hairspray” featured original songs that advanced the story, while “Rock of Ages” features hair band classics from the likes of Def Leppard, Journey, Foreigner, Poison and Twisted Sister that not only stop the story dead in its tracks, but seeing so many famous actors singing them (mostly out of tune while wearing ridiculous outfits) takes you out of the movie.
It doesn’t help that there isn’t enough downtime between the musical numbers to further develop the characters and the stories, though that may be a good thing, since the main plot – in which an idealistic small town dreamer defies the odds to find love and stardom – has been done many times before, and usually badly (witness duds like “Showgirls,” “Glitter” and “Burlesque”).
That’s a stark contrast to another big screen adaptation of a jukebox musical: 2008’s “Mamma Mia,” which mined the classic songs of Abba to an utterly charming effect. In that case, the musical numbers were far less frequent, giving them a bigger punch while allowing time to advance the story and develop the characters. Of course, some of the actors singing those songs (like Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan), fared better than others, but at least their contemporary outfits weren’t a distraction.
But where Shankman’s tone for “Hairspray” was right on the money, he overdoes “Rock of Ages” with a tone that’s too cheesy and too campy for its own good (it’s also too long, running 2 hours and 3 minutes). The frenetic pacing turns out to be an irritant, while the costume design is so obvious that the whole affair feels like one mighty big gimmick (or, at least, like a very long episode of “Glee”).
The screenplay is so poorly written that there are certain scenes that have to be seen to be believed. In one, Tom Cruise’s Stacee Jaxx and Malin Akerman, who plays a Rolling Stone journalist, sing Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.” They actually do a decent-enough version of the song, but the visual of Cruise singing to Akerman’s rear-end was too much to endure. It gets worse when Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, who plays his sound technician, serenade each other to the tune of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” but the less said about that scene, the better.
Despite its flaws, Cruise fares the best by far among the cast with his committed (and fully toned) performance as Jaxx. Catherine Zeta-Jones gives it her all, but still pales in comparison to her Oscar-winning turn in 2002’s “Chicago.” Julianne Hough barely gets a chance to shine after her impressive breakthrough performance in last year’s remake of “Footloose,” and she has no chemistry whatsoever with her aspiring rock star love interest, Diego Boneta, whose feature film debut can best be described as bland.
As a Broadway show, “Rock of Ages” may be “nothin’ but a good time,” but as a movie, it’s pretty twisted, sister. Maybe in a few years, it will develop a loyal following and turn into a camp classic along the lines of “Xanadu.” But for now, it’s a flop of ages – and for the ages – making it a frontrunner for next year’s Razzies.
Verdict: SKIP IT!
-- Scott Mantz