Can you catch all 14 song references from this movie in that paragraph? And yes, I was bored.
A wild, loony ride from start to finish, Rock of Ages somehow works thanks to dedicated performances and a consistent, albeit ridiculous, tone. Adam Shankman, best known for his work with the film adaption of Hairspray, once again proves he has a knack for musicals. He does three things especially well in his direction, apparent here and also in Hairspray. (1) He balances screen time amongst an extremely large cast. (2) He knows how to stage a musical number. (3) The music is woven into the experience without seeming forced or wedged into moment.
Let's start with the first thing: balancing a large cast. While there might not be as many cast members as in Hairspray, the characters in Rock of Ages are so much bigger and bolder individually that balancing the smaller number seems a harder task. With big names like Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, and Russell Brand as well as up-and-coming stars Julianne Hough, Malin Akerman, and Diego Boneta, it's quite the achievement to not only give them all solid roles, but to give all of them ample screen time as well.
Secondly, Shankman can choreograph a musical number. Rock of Ages bursts with visual pizzazz. Color bounces off every frame. The camera moves with energy. The result is an irresistible toe-tapping in the audience. You can't help but have fun watching this movie. Often, the film plays satire at musicals themselves. During those scenes, the choreography gets rightfully ridiculous. Whatever the mood, Shankman makes it work.
Finally, he makes music the essential part of the film. He uses the songs not as deviations from the material, but ways to enhance it. The songs reveal emotion and thought-processes. Sitting in the movie is almost like sitting in a concert. There's that much music. However, because the music is so theatrical, it causes the film to go overboard quite a bit.
The story follows Sherrie (Julianne Hough), a small-town girl with big-city dreams. She meets up with bartender Drew (Diego Boneta. Yea, I'd never heard of him either). He works at the Bourbon Room, a rock club. The club's owners (Baldwin and Brand) are struggling to keep the place afloat financially, especially with anti-rock activist Patricia Whitmore (Zeta-Jones) picketing against them 24/7. The solution? Bring in the biggest name in rock to put the club back on the map.
Tom Cruise adds yet another unique role to his resume next to his cameo in Tropic Thunder. Stacee Jaxx--the sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll god. Cruise not only proves his tremendous vocal range, but also a real dedication for whatever he does. We always hear about him performing his own stunts for the Mission: Impossible films. I think this role speaks more volumes.
The film seems to be fighting against itself in one area in particular. The love story between Drew and Sherrie is scripted to be front and center, the glue that holds the story together. But everything else in the film is more interesting. The side storylines are more compelling and funnier than what the movie is trying to shine the spotlight on.
The music here is tremendous. I'll be honest, I couldn't tell what 90% of the songs were until the choruses would start. But to my surprise, only a couple of the well-known songs were botched. ("Rock You Like a Hurricane" which runs through the credits and a cringe-inducing version of "Can't Fight This Feeling".) Other than those exceptions, the music is well-covered by the cast. The choreography is purposefully overdone (especially with Catherine Zeta-Jones' cover of "Hit Me with Your Best Shot").
What's best about the music is how reliant the film is on it. Songs aren't sparse. They flood in from scene to scene. It will annoy some viewers, engage others. I find that more is better than less when it comes to musicals. There are some musicals that have the bare minimum of songs to squeak by, and others that stuff the film with songs. Looking at the track listing for the Rock of Ages soundtrack, there are 20 songs in this movie. Whoa.
This is a light recommendation from me. I've bounced around between a 3 and a 3.5 for my star rating. At times, the movie is just too much. Also, the tone of the film is extremely uneven. It ranges from satire of the musical genre, to romance, to over-the-top comedy, to political messaging. But the movie has grown on me in the few days since I've seen it. The movie finished and I didn't know what to make of it. I still don't. But I'm a sucker for musicals.
It's hard to say a lot about this film because it's all over the place. Probably the least interesting characters are front and center while the strange supporting roles shoot off in different directions during the film. The energy from the cast brims over and the music steals the show. Rock of Ages is a colorful, funny, and upbeat film. I guess it comes down to this: if you like musicals, you'll enjoy this. If you don't, rock on elsewhere.