Rock of Ages
Directed by Adam Shankman. Starring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Åkerman, Mary J. Blige, Alec Baldwin. 12A cert, gen release, 123 min
THERE IS, SURELY, no chance that Rock of Ages could fail to work as a guilty pleasure. In an effort to replicate the Mamma Mia! phenomenon, Warner Brothers has turned to a notoriously vulgar jukebox musical from 2006. Feeding off 1980s hair metal by the likes of Foreigner and REO Speedwagon, the show offers unlimited opportunities to investigate Noël Coward’s famous aphorism concerning the potency of cheap music. It will pass the time. Right?
How can I put this? Rock of Ages is too darn bad (ah, that’s the word) to qualify even as harmless fun. Whereas Mamma Mia! had an amateurish, sticky-backed-plastic charm to it, Adam Shankman’s behemoth reeks of cynicism, bad faith and coarseness. It is customary, when reviewing such projects, to suggest that the cast is having more fun than the audience. That doesn’t really apply in this case. With the exception of Catherine Zeta Jones – whose sinew-snapping turn confirms her admirable work ethic – everybody involved seems slightly flattened by the uninspiring source material.
Take Tom Cruise. The pocket star turns up as a slightly tweaked version of Axl Rose. As the camera introduces us to his tattooed body, suspicions develop that we are about to experience two hours of Tom as The Good Sport. You remember: the conspicuous self-deprecator from Tropic Thunder and Austin Powers in Goldmember. No such luck. For some bizarre reason, Cruise has decided to essay some proper acting. Furrowing his brow like a man constantly in search of his key fob, Cruise has not been this boringly intense since Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.
Battling their way past the threadbare narrative – something about a struggling Sunset Strip rock club – most of the supporting players keep their heads solemnly aloft. Alec Baldwin is solid as the venue’s owner. Paul Giamatti is slimy as Cruise’s manager.
As mentioned earlier, Zeta-Jones almost transcends the material as a version of Tipper Gore during her “ban this rock filth” period. It hardly needs to be said that Russell Brand – showing no greater commitment to a Brummie accent than he has shown to recent romantic partners – fails to do anything you could call acting. We already knew the clock was ticking on that career.
No amount of stunt casting could, however, distract from the film’s biggest problem: the songs just aren’t good enough. For every tolerable Don’t Stop Believin’ there’s a mood-killing Every Rose Has its Thorn. Still, if any school of music suited further crass commodification by Hollywood, then it’s this stuff. They deserve one another.