Rock of Ages, a musical comedy about music, features an expansive cast of A-list celebrities filling a variety of roles. There’s a diva (Mary J. Blige), a heartthrob (Tom Cruise), and a crazy person (Russell Brand), as well as a mixture of the three (Alec Baldwin). However, what the trailers and talk show interviews fail to mention is that the film centers on the rather boring love story between Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) and Drew Boley (Diego Boneta).
As a naive singer hoping to find fame in Hollywood, Sherrie begins the film on a Greyhound bus with a wistful rendition of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian.” The scene quickly turns humorous when the rest of the bus joins in. This sentiment prepares the viewer for a musical filled with great ’80s music and a fun cast.
The joy that emanates from the screen is infectious, and the theater had a somewhat festive atmosphere. The ensemble cast works well together when singing mash-ups of songs like “Juke Box Hero” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” However, the almost constant jamming of songs created a problem common in mediocre, jukebox musicals: a lack of plot and character development. Rock of Ages, though full of fun and games, gives each character and the plot too little cultivation.
Even though it gets the most attention, Sherrie and Drew’s romance is probably the least compelling storyline in the film,. Julianne Hough definitely looks the part of the edgy songstress, but her sugarcoated vocals are a mistake for a film that eschews pop music. At times, she even sounds like Vanessa Hudgens, which, needless to say, is not how a rocker should sound. Talented rocker Drew’s search for fame leaves him — surprise, surprise — unhappier than ever.
A far more interesting — but unfortunately less explored — perspective is that of Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). In the original Broadway version of the movie, Jaxx is a washed up creep, but his character was altered for the film. (Let’s be real: Tom Cruise is way too pretty to play a washed up creep.)
As the lead singer of Arsenal, the world’s biggest rock band, Stacee Jaxx has more fame than he knows what to do with. Coddled by his wily manager Paul Gill (the superbly cast Paul Giamatti), Jaxxcoasts through life with an entourage of scantily clad groupies and bottles of Wild Turkey Whiskey until Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Malin Ackerman) finally gives him a reality check.
Cruise’s acting is absorbing, and it’s easy to understand how every (and I really do mean every) woman in the film finds Stacee Jaxx irresistible. He has magnetism that allows him to get away with appalling things. When he meets Sherrie, now a waitress at the renowned Bourbon Room, for the first time, he places his hand on her, uh, chest. But when he says, “You have a perky … heart” with such compelling charisma, every woman in the theater wishes she were Sherrie in that moment.
It’s a shame that Stacee Jaxx is only in the film for about 45 minutes. Cruise’s dedicated work (he received vocal training for five hours a day before filming) does not receive the attention it deserves. The Venus Gentlemen’s Club’s owner Justice Charlier (Mary J. Blige), Bourbon Room owner DennisDupree (Alec Baldwin) and manager Paul Gill all suffer the same fate — too little screen time is given to good performances.
Don’t get me wrong: Watching Rock of Ages is thoroughly enjoyable. It’s easy to sing along to the classic ’80s tunes and appreciate the punny humor. What Rock of Ages lacks in textbook plot and character development it makes up with the pure spectacle of ’80s rock. The theatrical release poster says, “Nothin’ But A Good Time” (an ode to Poison’s hit song), and that’s exactly what this film is — nothing more, nothing less.