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Friday, 15 June 2012 

Rock of Ages

Director: Adam Shankman – Run time 132 mins

Review by Martin Goolsarran

Turning a hit Broadway musical into a full length feature is never going to be the easiest of tasks for any filmmaker. After cutting his teeth on the auspicious ‘Hairspray’ re-make and helming several episodes of hit TV series ’Glee’. ’Rock of Ages‘ is director Adam Shankman’s second attempt at tackling the musical - film adaptation. But how will it fair this time around? With these credentials under his belt can ‘Rock of Ages’ live up to the global success of the stage show? Simple answer, yes it can!

‘Rock of Ages’ is the story of a small town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) whose pursuit of fame brings her to the sleazy glitz of Hollywood’s infamous rock n roll mecca, Sunset Strip. Upon her arrival she meets an ambitious young buck, Drew, (Diego Boneta) who likewise has dreams of finding stardom by fronting a small-time rock n roll outfit. The pair quickly form a connection that before long turns into a full on, loved up romance. By sheer fortune Drew and his band are one night gifted a slot at the strip’s central hub, The Bourbon Room, opening for legendary rock idol Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). Drew is quickly spotted and snapped up by disingenuous music mogul Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) causing him to forsake his love of Sherrie for sweet success. Sherrie, distraught by Drew’s rejection finds herself on the streets and quickly swept up into the shady world of strip show dancing. The pressure mounts on The Bourbon Room’s owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) to save his sacred club from being shut down by hard-line anti-rock lobbyist Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta Jones). Just as Jaxx wrestles with himself as the aging rock god devoid of his integrity and musical soul from the years of rock n roll excess. This is the story of rock’s young lovers told through a blistering musical score of classic 80’s hits.

It doesn't take long to get the gist of where the film is going. The film opens with a congenial scene featuring Julianne Hough and fellow passengers, breaking into song on a Greyhound bus with the power-ballad 'Sister Christian' by ’Night Ranger'. Followed by the explosive stylings of Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin and Diego Boneta in a rock n roll nightclub, trading interchangeable verses on a party anthem medley of ‘David Lee Roth/Poison’ ‘Just Like paradise/‘Nothing but a Good Time’. This theatrical opening sets the tone and pace throughout the film, with the key points of the story’s strong cast firing off their trials and tribulations through a potently foot-stomping and poignant soundtrack! The music runs through the film like a surging current lashing out hard rock signature tunes that capture the era of feel-good hedonism and ambition of the late 80’s; just as it carefully juxtaposes the more subtle issues of love and loss through heart-felt power ballads.

With the exception of Hough and Boneta, the rest of the cast pull off passable vocal performances all round, though when in song mode it’s the strong vocal ability and dynamic presence of the leading couple that really steal the show. Though both earnest in acting ability Boneta could be stretched a little more in range. However, it was disappointing to see the eminent musical talents of R&B queen Mary. J. Blige wasted on a character secreted to the backdrop of the film and that never really gets a chance to shine.

We are treated to a superbly cast, mullet sporting, Russell Brand as rock n rock revolutionary, Lonny, who preaches his own hilarious manifesto in full-on Brummie accent!  Alec Baldwin is great fun to watch as a die-hard rock guru battling against the tide of change. While it is Tom Cruise‘s Stacee Jaxx that brings the house down with a solidly convincing performance of a burnout music idol lost in a world of hedonism and megalomania. Not without his comic moment either as he periodically reels off doses of laconic zen-philosophy babble while overindulging in hilarious cock-rocking antics. Mr Cruise must have done his homework on this one, as all the clichés, as well as the codpiece are perfectly in place. Last but not least, a sterling performance given by Paul Giamatti as the Mr 10%, music manager Paul Gill. Giamatti is awesome in portraying the archetypal power-playing nasty that embodies the ruthless underbelly of show business.

There are laughs a plenty as the comedy is plotted well throughout the film, though for the most part the humour works in synch with having fun with the caricatures and the excesses of the 80’s era. Though the most epically side-splitting scene comes with Russell Brand’s admission of love for boss, Alec Baldwin, ending with the pair dueting hand in hand, through’ REO Speedwagon’s ‘‘I can’t Fight This Feeling’.

By pulling off one mighty fine dose of musical enterprise that captures all the energy, passion and spontaneity of a modern day chorus line ’Rock of Ages’ nails the modern musical to the T! Spandex and eye shadow aside, there’s no telling that this won’t be the predominant musical hit of the year!