Film Review: “Rock of Ages”

The plot is ho-hum, worked to death Hollywood boilerplate.  An insipid re-run of “Showgirls” (1995), small town would-be singing star girl arrives in L.A by bus, gets abused and degraded by seedy L.A star-breaking machinery. Ditto-longsuffering would-be rock star nightclub waiter ditto. Then both find love and miraculously rise to the top after a dumb-luck incident. Oily manager. Aging impresario and his burned out metal-head pal reduced to running a rock club on the Sunset Strip. Aging metal star living the dream past it’s furthest extent.

The young stars are interchangeable with any of the current crop. The talents of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) are wasted.  However, Alec Baldwin comes alive as the owner of the fading “Bourbon Room” on the Strip.  He has a genuine chemistry with Russell Brand playing Russell Brand. Both are funny and believable.

Rock and Roll in the 80s is what it is. Look for cameo appearances: Kevin Cronin (REO Speedwagon) singing “We built this city (on rock and roll) (Starship, 1985. The last song Grace Slick performed before retiring.  Same scene, Nuno Bettercourt (Extreme) whose song “more than words is featured elsewhere in the movie). 80’s singer Debbie Gibson (Only in my dreams) is in the crowd.

The film is overlong at two hours and much of the progress smells of “Glee” but it’s beautifully photographed and choreographed. Interestingly, the actors perform all of the songs, probably with some digital voice modulation (like Britney Spears). But all that said, the film absolutely belongs to Tom Cruise. That he would even tackle this role at his age (50 this week) is remarkable.

Tom Cruise definitely rises to the persona of aging glam metal rocker Stacee Jaxx, channeling a spacy Jim Morrison in his declining years. Jaxx suffers from the Morrison curse, unable to achieve artistry for the obstruction of being a ‘rock star”. It killed Morrison at age 27. Underrated Cruise pulls it off brilliantly.

Best clip:  Stacee Jaxx coming alive from a stupor, single-mindedly pursuing the strains of “Don’t Stop Believin” (Journey, 1981). It was like following the sound of Jim Morrison and “The End” down the dorm corridors in 1967. No one had ever heard anything like that. It was like a snake charmer.

Worst clips:  The irritating propensity of the players to suddenly burst into song at desultory moments, much like Stephen Bochco’s 1995 mega-flop “Cop Rock” in which grizzled detectives broke into ballads while pursuing the scum of New York.

With all its clichés and plot foibles, it was fun. The music was great. I enjoyed it.

Recommended. I give it three and a half flashy Tom Cruise smiles.

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