Posted on Sunday, June 17th, 2012 by Adam Quigley
“Nothin’ But a Good Time” promises the tagline of Rock of Ages, referencing one of the two dozen or so classic ’80s rock songs its cast energetically deflates into innocuously pleasing sing-a-longs. It’s an admirably honest proclamation of the film’s limited aspirations, one which it fulfills with all the grace of a monkey hurling its own feces at the screen.
Credit where credit is due, Rock of Ages stops just shy of having literal monkey shit flung at its audience; although monkey sight gags are in fact a primary source of the film’s humor, should we choose to accept that the innumerable moments in which a trained monkey behaves contrary to that of an untrained monkey qualify as humor. Said hilarity includes but is not limited to: monkey wearing a dictator outfit, monkey throwing stuff, monkey not throwing stuff, monkey grinning, monkey screeching loudly, monkey having a silly name, monkey serving drinks, monkey not serving drinks, monkey doing other things that resemble what humans do, and homosexuality. That last one has nothing to do with any monkey related shenanigans, but apparently it’s just as noteworthy, as was evident from the fits of hysterical laughter that surrounded me when two male characters share an out-of-nowhere romantic musical number together — complete with obligatory make-out session. (A gay guy directed the film, so it’s okay to laugh!)
If all that, and Tom Cruise in assless chaps, sounds like a promising night of fun and laughs to you, Rock of Ages should prove more than serviceable. Granted, of course, that you’re also an advocate of the recent surge of jukebox musicals, none of which lend themselves very well to things like “story” and “character development”, but all of which feature songs you already know and enjoy and can sing the lyrics to, so who gives a fuck, right?
Impressively, Rock of Ages‘ plot is even more threadbare than that of Mamma Mia!, the other recent adaptation of a hit Broadway jukebox musical (that one being ABBA themed) whose box office success was likely responsible for this one officially entering its third generation of recycled creativity. But let’s not pile all the blame on Mamma Mia! for Rock of Age‘s ingratiating display of blithe frivolity. There’s also Glee.
Needlessly long story short, Rock of Ages follows a young, predictably gorgeous aspiring artist (Julianne Hough, far less abrasive than she was in the Footloose remake, but no more memorable) who travels to Los Angeles with nothing but a suitcase full of records. They’re stolen immediately. This catches the attention of a nightclub runner (Diego Boneta, even less memorable), who does nothing about it, but does so while being handsome. They sing and dance and bang, probably, and then they’re in love, apparently, and then a misunderstanding occurs, of course, and then they make up via song and save rock and roll or the bar or something. Oh, by the way, this review contains spoilers. Sorry.
Meanwhile, Tom Cruise wanders around in a stupor and says/does comedically inappropriate things and all the ladies eyes’ glaze over and their panties follow suit. He sometimes meets women who play like they’re not interested in having sex with him, but obviously they must be, so he flashes them his rapey eyes and gives ‘em a nice groping, and they quickly drop the facade. (Hey, it’s not rape! They were totally into it! Judge, you gotta believe me!) He also saves the bar, I think. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.
The plot isn’t the focus here. Early on it seems like a conflict might arise from the Mayor’s religious conservative wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), but after an uncomfortably choreographed number in which she struts and punches and hip-thrusts her way around a church, she more or less vanishes, and only reappears to have everything neatly resolved in another mash-up musical number. Basically, she exists to juxatapose what the movie is really interested in, which is the radical nature of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — but without any actual on-screen depictions of either sex or drugs — or rock and roll, for that matter.
The whole affair reeks of commercial Hollywood artifice, in just the way you would expect from director/So You Think You Can Dance judge Adam Shankman (Hairspray, Bedtime Stories, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, The Pacifier). He can usher around trained singers and dancers in his sleep, but sans John Waters‘ foundation inspiring the production with some emotional urgency and a touch of off-kilter flair, his film feels like it’s running on autopilot.
Really, it’s a whole lot of rock-tinged pop music presented with a playful, winking ribaldry, too knowingly campy and happy-go-lucky to satisfy true fans of either rock or glam metal — news which is doubtful to surprise many, I’m sure. It’s not difficult to surmise how the studios achieved this mixture, likely bringing in writer Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) to sprinkle the picture with bawdy quips, and assuredly putting writer Allan Loeb (Just Go with It, The Dilemma) in charge of vampirically draining the proceedings of anything resembling theatric vitality. The movie strikes a perfect balance of being just provocative enough to seem edgy, but not enough to be in any way subversive or daring or off-putting to anyone under the age of 70.
Remember, folks: “Nothin’ But a Good Time”.
Are we having fun yet?
Truthfully, for a movie like this, a cast and soundtrack listing is probably more useful than anything a review will tell you. Do you like Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Journey, Poison, Europe, Night Ranger, Twisted Sister, and/or REO Speedwagon? Do you like Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, and/or Malin Akerman? Don’t you want to watch the latter performing songs by the former?
As spirited as a pep rally and just as empty, Rock of Ages has no sense of pace or escalation or anything resembling genuine human interaction or emotion. It’s one blaring karaoke cover after another, tied together by easy ’80s gags and lots of attractive people wanting to fuck/falling in love. (Sorry Paul Giamatti, you’re not pretty enough to find love.)
It’s an affectionate enough tribute to ’80s classic and glam metal rock, but one that’s far more keen to gently poke fun at the period than to evoke its attitudes or emulate its behaviors. Regardless of how I feel about the film — and honestly, it’s hard to say if it made me feel anything at all — Rock of Ages delivers precisely what its audience wants, and does so with workmanlike exuberance. But at two hours in length, it’s closing Journey number rings a little too true, with Julianne Hough wailing, “Oh, the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on…”
I know exactly how she feels.
/Film Rating: 5 out of 10