“Rock of Ages” Celebrates its Own Decadence
Reviewed by Jason Gregg
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was 1987 in L.A. For those too young to remember (or those that choose to forget), 1987 was a very special time and place. It was about living life to the fullest … don’t let petty things like a feeling of shame or self-respect hold you back from having a good time. Grow out your bangs/ mullet, rip up your only pair of $100 Guess jeans, throw on your favorite cassette of Def Leppard, Foreigner, Poison or Journey, crank it up and rip the knob off, man. All before the 90s showed up to dress us in flannel, take us to Seattle and depress the hell out of us.
“Rock of Ages” is the latest musical/ comedy to let us relive the glory days of excess and pop rock. Based on the Broadway musical and directed by Adam Shankman (who also directed the 2007 film version of “Hairspray”). We start our journey on a bus traveling from Oklahoma to L.A.; one of the passengers is our lead starlet, Sherrie Christian (played by Julianne Hough). She narrates her journey by singing “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger along with the entire ensemble of the bus. At this initial moment we see that this movie is not going to take itself seriously. Nor should it. The music of the 80s was about feeling good about ourselves.
Once in L.A., Sherrie’s song morphs into “Just Like Paradise” by David Lee Roth then “Nothin’ but a Good Time” by Poison all introducing us to our cast – Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, and Alec Baldwin (with each actor having a singing part) working at the Bourbon Room, the popular club on the Strip.
Of course, our lead star Drew (played by Boneta) helps Sherrie as soon as she gets off the bus and they start falling for each other. It’s a simple formula but nothing about that era was overly complicated.
The Bourbon Room is having tax issues and the Mayor’s wife, Patricia Whitmore (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) is trying to shut the entire Strip down based on its immoral behavior. She breaks into “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar to vent her frustration.
To paraphrase Bonnie Tyler – “We Need a Hero.” And, that hero comes in the form of the alcoholic, bad boy Stacee Jaxx (played by Tom Cruise). Jaxx is the culmination of every big ego front man, from Axl Rose to Bret Michaels to Vince Neil. I have a feeling that many people (including myself) are hesitant to see if Cruise can sing. He actually spent several hours a day training with Axl Roses’ vocal coach preparing for this role. It paid off.
The managers of the Bourbon Room – Dennis Dupree (played by Baldwin) and Lonny (played by Brand) have booked Jaxx to play his last show with his current band before he embarks on his solo tour, therefore helping them to raise money for their tax problem. The problem is that Jaxx is highly unpredictable, as with most big ego front men. Jaxx and his sidekick, a baboon named “Hey Man” arrive and he is interviewed by a Rolling Stone reporter, she holds the proverbial mirror up to Jaxx’s ego and they break into Cruise’s powerful performance of “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi.
The entire cast starts falling into their own problems: Sherrie breaks up with Drew after a misunderstanding with Jaxx; she is now on her own and has taken employment as a stripper; Jaxx is falling apart psychologically; and Drew partners with a bad manager who convinces him that rock is dead and (gulp) boy bands are the next big thing.
As with most musicals, everyone finds resolution through singing and comes together for one last hoorah to give the audience a big-number conclusion as they all sing “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey.
Should you see this movie? Well, that all depends on if you like to rock. If you do, you need to see this movie. You certainly do not have to be a fan of musicals to enjoy the story, the songs, and the humor. It helps if you have an appreciation of music from that era. Go ahead and watch videos from Warrant, Poison, and Bon Jovi; aside from their power ballads, they never took themselves too seriously. They had fun with their music and that is exactly what “Rock of Ages” captured.