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Awesome: 3.13%
Worth A Look: 6.25%
Just Average46.88%
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4 reviews, 8 user ratings

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Rock of Ages
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by Peter Sobczynski

"a.k.a American Idiots"
1 stars

I always used to think that if time-travel were ever to become an actual thing one day, I would like to venture back to that long-forgotten period known as the summer of 1978 so that I could attend the world premiere of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the infamously ghastly musical that took the songs from that most perennially overrated and underwhelming of all Beatles albums (trust me--anyone who still claims it to be the greatest rock album of all time either has not actually listened to it since 1974 or is named Jann Wenner), along with selections from "The White Album" and "Abbey Road" for good measure, and wrestled the otherwise unrelated tunes into a half-assed narrative that was the thin excuse for a series of increasingly garish production numbers performed by a group of fresh-faced newcomers and cagey veterans united only by their utter unsuitability in dealing with the demands of the material. My reason for wishing to appear at this particular moment in screen history has nothing to do with the high quality of the material--indeed, as bad as it may sound in theory, it is actually worse in practice--but because of my perverse desire to see the looks on the faces of that premiere audience as it assaulted their eyes and ears in all its pseudo-glory on the big screen--my guess is that by the end, they looked like the opening night audience in "The Producers" after viewing the "Springtime for Hitler" number for the first time. Of course, being able to go back to that momentous moment in bad movie history is impossible but I suspect that I have just gone through the next best (or worst) thing to that experience while watching "Rock of Ages," the big-screen version of the stage hit and a film so gauche, so devoid of taste or sense and ham-fisted in its relentless attempts to provide viewers with a "good time" that by the time I staggered out into the lobby after its blessed conclusion that I felt as though I had just spent the previous two hours being relentlessly beaten by a Spencer Gifts outlet.

Set in 1987, the film opens with sweet-natured farm girl SherrieChristian (Julianne Hough) arriving in Los Angeles with nothing more to her name than a few dollars, a suitcase filled with her prized record albums and dreams of achieving fame, fortune and true love. She has barely stepped off the bus before she is mugged but it is because of this that she meets hunky aspiring rocker Drew (Diego Boneta) and the two are instantly besotted with each other. While struggling to write the song that will make him an instant rock god, Drew toils away at the infamous Bourbon Club, a temple to all that is foul, sleazy and decadent that is run by seen-it-all impresario Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his skeevy sidekick Lonny (Russell Brand), and gets her a job as a waitress. Alas, the gig may become a temp job at best if the mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his anti-rock crusader wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) have anything to do with it. While they threaten to shut the club down for good, Dennis hopes that an upcoming show by legendary rock group Arsenal--the last one featuring star singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) before he embarks on his solo career--will be just the thing to pull the place out of its current financial predicament. On the night of the show, Drew is unexpectedly pulled out of obscurity to fill in for the missing opening act, a move that attracts the nefarious attentions of Stacee's nefarious manager (Paul Giamatti), only to find his triumph tarnished when he mistakenly believes that Sherrie has been untrue to him, driving them to break up and for Sherrie to end up as a stripper (albeit one who wears more clothes during her routines than she did at any point during her waitressing gig, of course). Further complications arise when Dennis learns that his promised windfall is not to be, Stacee falls under the intense probing of "Rolling Stone" reporter Constance Sack (Malin Akerman) and the audience discovers that a movie that seems to have already gone on for about six days still has more than an hour to go.

All this is, of course, dumb enough to send most right-thinking audience members scurrying for the exits on its own but to make matters even more painful, "Rock of Ages" is an example of that most terrifying of theatrical conceits--a jukebox musical. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a jukebox musical is a show that takes a group of familiar songs--usually unrelated other than being from the same composer or genre--and jerry-rigs them together into some kind of narrative so that audiences can spend their hard-earned money watching people offering up cover versions of the likes of ABBA or Billy Joel or Fats Waller instead of making an effort to come up with something new and original. For "Rock of Ages," the musical bill of fare consists entirely of Eighties-era hair metal and power ballads, two of the key reasons why most dedicated followers of the terpsichorean muse try to pretend that the decade never happened (at least after 1984). As a result, the film is essentially little more than the world's most expensive karaoke party and is jammed with one musical number after another in which familiar faces burst out with the likes of "Sister Christian," "Wanted-Dead or Alive," "Shadows of the Night," "I Want to Know What Love Is," "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and an exceptionally nightmarish mashup of "We Built This City" and "We're Not Gonna Take It," to name only a few. It all climaxes, perhaps inevitably, with a cast rendition of "Don't Stop Believin'" designed to position the overplayed Journey tune as one of the most powerful, profound and Earth-shattering anthems of all time. Whether or not you feel this way about the tune itself, it is a virtual certainty that when Mary J. Blige (whose brief role as a strip-club owner is such a blatant sop to attract African-American audiences to such a lily-white enterprise that they might as well have named her character "Token") sings the bit about how the movie never ends and it goes on and on and on and on, the surviving audience members are likely to feel that truer and more terrifying words have never been spoken.

As someone who neither sings, dances nor entirely trusts those who do, it might be assumed that I went into "Rock of Ages" with the kind of cool grace and open-mindedness of someone being led to the sacrificial altar of Thulsa Doom. While it may be true that I did not approach it with the same kind of anticipation that I brought to the screening of "Prometheus," I was willing to give it a chance. After all, maybe by some kind of miracle, it could have been less like "Mama Mia," the ABBA-infused atrocity whose success on the big screen no doubt led to this one being launched into production, and more like "Romance & Cigarettes," the delightfully strange low-budget cult favorite from John Turturro in which an eclectic cast (including James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Mandy Moore and Christopher Walken) occasionally burst into tunes made famous by performers ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Englebert Humperdinck. (Seriously, if you have never seen this film before, you need to do so and you need to do so right now.) Additionally, the film was directed by Adam Shankman and while that name may sent shivers of revulsion down the spines of those who sat through the likes of "Bringing Down the House" and "The Wedding Planner," he did successfully bring the stage version of "Hairspray" to the big screen and helmed the hilarious "Rocky Horror"-themed episode of "Glee" to boot. Lastly, while I cannot say that there was much overlap between the music featured in the film and my own personal tastes (of the artists that sprung up during that time, I dug Madonna and The Bangles, bemoaned the news of the breakup of Lone Justice and am still waiting patiently for david&david to record a follow-up to their brilliant debut/swan song "Boomtown"), I can certainly understand the appeal of a well-done power ballad and bow to no one in my appreciation for the likes of "Paradise City" or "Can't Fight This Feeling" (though I would most likely deny the latter except under enhanced interrogation techniques).

With all of that going for it, I probably went into "Rock of Ages" with at least a little more anticipation than I did for the likes of "Battleship." However, whatever meager hopes I might have had for the film were pretty much stripped away before the end of the first musical number and long before I discovered that "Midnight Blue," the Lou Gramm solo hit that may well be The Greatest Song Ever Recorded, was inexplicably absent from the soundtrack. Even by comparison to the generally bubble-brained narratives of most examples of the genre, the storyline here as presented by screenwriters Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo and Allan Loeb veers between paper-thin and non-existent. The central romance between Drew and Sherrie is so bland and simple-minded that one could easily mistake it as an exceptionally spot-on parody of the vapid romantic conflicts often found front in center of most musicals until it finally becomes apparent that we are supposed to be genuinely buying it instead of jeering it. Perhaps realizing that the romantic element was not strong enough to support even a project as flimsy as this, plenty of subplots are dropped in without any noticeable effect. The involving the dissolute rock star and the idealistic "Rolling Stone" reporter is so hilariously implausible that you get the sense that "Spin" must have paid a fortune in product placement in order to get "Rolling Stone" into the film, (in the grand scheme of cinematic depictions of life at "Rolling Stone," the kindest way to describe "Rock of Ages" would be "less than 'Perfect'"), the stuff about the anti-rock establishment trying to close down the club for the real estate makes one long for the intellectual depth that "Burlesque" gave to similar material and the endless production numbers are staged with all the casual sexism and corporatized indifference of a second-rate beer commercial stretched out to over two hours. Then again, I can only assume that anyone on the scene at the time with any wit or taste probably decide to blow the metaphorical popsicle stand depicted here in order to catch "The Untouchables" and pick up copies of Prince's "Sign O' the Times" or U2's "The Joshua Tree" and yes, these activities are still a better deployment of your hard-earned entertainment dollars than anything on display here.

Although I cannot imagine any possible chain of events that could induce to attend a performance of the stage version of "Rock of Ages," I concede that if performed by a group of energetic actors cranking themselves up to 11 to deliver the tunes with their available reserves of gusto, the illusion of something resembling a good time could be attained under the right circumstances. Here, the faces are familiar enough but for the most part, your average high school chorus department could make a more convincing case for the material at hand. Take Julianne Hough, for example. She can sing a little, dance quite a bit more and I can attest from personal experience that she is both super-pretty and just about the nicest person that you could ever hope to encounter while in the midst of a grueling publicity tour. That said, based on the evidence seen here, Hough has finally discovered her instrument as an actress but alas, it is a cigar-box banjo with at least two broken strings--whenever she has to go through a scene that doesn't involve singing or dancing, she has the kind of deer-in-the-headlights look that instills nothing so much as a sense of pity at the sight of someone clearly over their head despite the essential shallowness of the material. That said, she comes off like Katherine Hepburn and Charlize Theron all rolled into one when compared to the barely sentient lunk that is Diego Boneta, whom I can only imagine is the unwitting winner of a contest put together by casting agents to find the dullest young leading man possible. This guy is so bland that he makes Breckin Meyer seem like Christopher Walken and so wooden that he could give Sam Worthington splinters and if one were to select an album to suggest the level of reckless abandon that he represents, it would probably be a collection of the greatest hits of a-ha. Together, they strike zero sparks and never provide any reason why we should care if their characters end up together or not, which is kind of a problem since the success of the film depends in no small part to that happening.

For the most part, the better-known performers come off a little bit better but not even their efforts can do much to save the proceedings. As the bimbo "Rolling Stone" reporter, Malin Akerman is so inept and insulting that I cannot imagine anyone approving of her contributions (aside from those involving the bearing of flesh) with the single exception of John Travolta. As yet another in a long line of bawdy bad boy characters that he has played in the last few years, Russell Brand brings so many scenes to a dead halt with his increasingly tiresome antics that you will find yourself wishing that Katy Perry could use her power to clip him out of this one entirely. As the anti-rock crusader with a not-so-shocking secret, Catherine Zeta-Jones is stuck with a one-note character and while she isn't particularly good in it, she lends enough pizzaz to the part to make her contributions slightly more palatable. As the antagonists representing the mercenary side of the music business, Alec Baldwin and Paul Giamatti both get some laughs here and there but you can tell that they are merely coasting through roles that they know are junk with just enough effort to earn their hefty paychecks. The best performance in the film--hell the best thing about the entire film outside of the arrival of the end credits--is courtesy of Tom Cruise, who throws himself into the part of the reckless Axl Rose-like rocker. He pulls it off--even his singing is sort of credible (even if it won't quite send you out in pursuit of the soundtrack)--but even so, he puts so much effort into coming across with the spirit of heedless abandon that it winds up working against his performance after a while. Like I said, he is good but I can't help but wonder if the filmmakers missed a bet (one of many) by not casting an authentic rocker in the role in the hopes that they could naturally bring a certain authenticity to the role that might have both blended with and undercut the surrounding chaos in potentially interesting ways.

"Rock of Ages" is a foul, noisy and overly moussed assault on all that is good and decent that is so offensive to the senses that even the poetry of such mega-hacks as Poison and Bon Jovi feel cheapened and coarsened by their appearances here. And yet, when a colleague asked me a few days after the screening if I thought if it would be successful at the box-office, I replied that I was almost certain that it would indeed become a huge financial hit. After all, the wretched screen adaptation of "Grease" continues to be a popular item to this day and it contains the same blend of sappy romance and empty-headed nostalgia that "Rock of Ages" traffics in and my guess is that it will have a similar appeal to the mass audience. However, for all its bottomless stupidity, "Grease" at least occasionally seemed slightly interested in the cultural firmament that inspired it while "Rock of Ages" has nothing more to say about its era than "Gosh, people sure dressed weird and put a lot of crap in their head back then." Well hell, I could have told you that and I would not have even forced you to listen to an off-key version of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" before arriving at that particular epiphany. (However, if you asked nicely enough and were of a comely nature, I might do a few bars of "We Belong" and even wear the neon-green gloves for the hand claps.)

Of course, having mentioned "Grease," you are now most likely expecting me to make some kind of cheap and snarky comment comparing "Rock of Ages" unfavorably to "Grease 2," the 1982 sequel that was so awful that even those deranged enough to enjoy the original wrote off as a brain-dead flop. I am not going to be doing that because as bad as "Grease 2" was--and dear God was it awful--it at least had the decency to present us with the not-inconsiderable sight of the then-unknown Michelle Pfeiffer in one of her earliest roles and it did contain, as I recall, one tune about a guy trying to seduce his girlfriend while inside a bomb shelter that was kind of amusing. "Rock of Ages" is more like "Grease 5" by comparison and even though that film doesn't even exist right now, it would still be a better investment of your time and money in the long run.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23146&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/14/12 15:00:58
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User Comments

11/07/13 deceiver Gotta be in the right mood, but there's fun to be had 3 stars
9/18/12 Gabrielle Barnard A contender for the worst movie I've ever watched. 1 stars
7/24/12 Mick Gillies OK I'm the odd one out as I thought it fun and musically sound 4 stars
7/02/12 James Thomas im a 80's kid i loved the music 5 stars
6/25/12 Lee Ann I couldn't sit through the whole thing--I've seen better movies on LMN--really terrible. 2 stars
6/22/12 Al R A god glimpse into the world of Rock& Rool. 4 stars
6/18/12 Jeff Wilder Cheesy as hell. But fun. 3 stars
6/16/12 Ady boy Nothing is as bad as Mamma Mia. It doesn't have Colin Firth so it's okay. 3 stars
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  15-Jun-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Oct-2012


  DVD: 09-Oct-2012

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