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The rock-centric musical ‘Rock of Ages’ hit theaters June 15, 2012, and is unfortunately under-performed due to its competition with the kid-friendly ‘Madagascar 3’ and highly anticipated sci-fi thriller ‘Prometheus.’ However, box office aside, the movie itself is an average romp with great songs, solid performances, and an upbeat cast. ‘Rock of Ages’ is certainly enjoyable, but the lackluster story and scattered plot-lines may have also contributed to its low ticket sales this past week.
‘Ages’ is actually a film adaptation of Chris D’Arienzo’s 2006 Broadway musical of the same name. It tells the story of rock legend Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), lead singer of Arsenal, giving his farewell performance at the Bourbon Room, a bar owned by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his best friend Lonny Barnett (Russell Brand). Stacie has decided to go solo and so Arsenal’s last performance as a band will draw in hundreds of fans, which the Bourbon Room needs, as it has recently fallen on hard times.
Meanwhile, a perky young girl named Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) arrives in Los Angeles from Tulsa, Oklahoma with dreams of becoming a singer. Unfortunately, LA is not kind to her and she gets mugged, losing all of her albums. Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) tries to intervene but the thief gets away, prompting Drew to offer Sherrie a job at the Bourbon Room to help her get back on her feet. Dennis refuses at first, but ultimately hires her so they can prepare for Stacee’s arrival at the club later that week.
Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) announces his campaign for the city with the help of his wife, Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta Jones), who is the real brains behind the politics. She wants to shut down the Bourbon Room due to the “immoral music” and wants to take Stacee Jaxx down as well, recruiting mothers and religious fanatics to back her up and protest his last performance.
Drew and Sherrie hit it off and start dating soon after she gets hired. Stacee arrives and turns everything upside down due to his monstrous ego and bizarre demands. A writer for the Rolling Stone named Constance Sack (Malin Akerman) stirs up trouble with her questions and manages to get through to Jaxx about his attitude problem and his slimy manager, Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti).
A couple of hours before Stacee performs, the start up band drops out and Sherrie convinces Dennis to let Drew and his band play. He reluctantly agrees and Drew’s band does well, prompting Paul to want to sign him as he is sick of Stacee’s attitude. However, Stacee bumps into Sherrie and Drew thinks they slept together, which makes him break up with her and sign with Paul. From there, everything takes a turn for the worse.
The selling point of ‘Rock of Ages’ is of course the musical performances, which are strong and varied. Special mention goes to the fact that all the actors actually do sing their parts themselves instead of being dubbed over by professional singers. The standout performances are Cruise, Zeta-Jones, and Mary J. Blige while the others fair relatively well. The selections of 80’s rock are all familiar tunes and create an air of familiarity for the audience as well as nostalgia.
Unfortunately, ‘Rock of Ages’ suffers from a dull story with too many characters that stretch the plot thin. The love story between Drew and Sherrie is clichéd and largely uninteresting as neither of them have distinct personalities. Furthermore, their relationship materialized in what seemed to be only a few days, so when they inevitably break up due to miscommunication, it does not stick with the audience.
Furthermore, since the two main leads were relatively boring, other actors did not get enough time to shine, particularly Catherine Zeta-Jones. It is a shame to see that she only received two musical numbers since her performance in ‘Chicago’ (2002) won her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. It would have been smarter to play up her antagonistic relationship with Stacee Jaxx rather than inserting a bland character like Constance to be his love interest.
Another pointless subplot is the romance between Dennis and Lonny, which is played for laughs, but does not go anywhere. It only adds to the number of songs stuffed into the story and is neither funny nor plot relevant. It could have been left out entirely and would not have made a difference.
To that same end, Alec Baldwin is largely out of place in the role of Dennis. He seems asleep at the wheel and does not breathe much life into the character while everyone else around him gives solid performances.
To close out the pointless angle, while Mary J. Blige’s singing is phenomenal, the entire subplot with the strip club is not utilized properly. It sends a mixed message that gets clogged up among the other things going in the story at the same time. It seems to imply that becoming a stripper is hitting rock bottom, but then there is a musical number about implying how it can be empowering. This idea is then contradicted by Sherrie, who does not enjoy the job and considers moving back to Tulsa as a result. It would have been better to give the strip club a clearer role in the storyline rather than shoehorning it in for the sake of fan-service.
Still, ‘Rock of Ages’, while just an average musical, is energetic, colorful, and funny. It is a bit of harmless summer fun that is not necessarily a must see, but it would not hurt to give it a try.
Image Courtesy of Rock of Ages