Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Movie Musicals That Got It Wrong: Rock of Ages

At this point, it's becoming more difficult to find notable movie musicals made in the past 15 years.  Live-action musicals, that is -- of course there are countless animated ones.  There are a few obvious live-action musicals still left, but otherwise, I'm struggling to think of any.  That brings me to Rock of Ages.

Like Across the Universe and Mamma Mia!, Rock of Ages is a jukebox musical.  Unlike Across the UniverseRock of Ages isn't "wrong" because its ambitions and creativity fell just short of the mark.  No, Rock of Ages has very simple aims: be feel good and nostalgic.  Yet unlike Mamma Mia!, Rock of Ages does not fulfill these aims.  I am hard-pressed to think of a more blah musical.

Rock of Ages began as a stage musical.  Whereas the other two jukebox musicals dug into the song catalogue of one band, Rock of Ages features songs from a variety of 1980s hard rock and "hair metal" bands: Journey, Guns N Roses, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and so on.  The story is this: fresh-faced girl comes to Los Angeles dreaming of becoming a professional singer.  FFG meets fresh-faced boy, who works for the Bourbon Room, a famous rock club that has fallen on hard times.  It turns out that FFB wants to be a singer, too!  Anyway, the Bourbon Room's owner (Alec Baldwin) decides to book bigwig rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), of the band Arsenal, to draw a big crowd and pay his tax debt.  However, Jaxx is a self-indulgent asshole who rubs everyone the wrong way.  Meanwhile, FFG and FFB have fallen in love, and FFB gets the opportunity to be a star when the opening act cancels (so FFG's singing dream is forgotten?).  When FFB thinks that FFG had sex with Jaxx, he gets angry... and channels that anger into his music!  And becomes a hit!  But now he hates FFG!  FFB signs with Jaxx's corrupt manager, and...

... other stuff happens.  I think the wonderful Bryan Cranston has a small cameo.  But otherwise, I can't really bring myself to care.

The Good

Alec Baldwin Was Funny.  Alec Baldwin is usually funny in whatever he appears in.  Especially when he plays a long-haired hippie.

Some of the Songs... I liked them.  I'm not a huge fan of hair metal, but there was a good enough mixture that anyone could find one or two to like.

New Kids On the Block Reborn!  The one genuine laugh in this movie came from FFB's new band, which was a clean-cut boy band in the New Kids vein (this is set in 1987).  The look... the songs... the dance moves... were so spot on.  It instantly sent me back to my youth, when I was making glitter T-shirts for my friends with Jordan Knight or Donnie Wahlberg's face on them.    

Otherwise.... there wasn't much.

The Bad

Tom Cruise... Overrated.  Before I watched, I heard that at least Tom Cruise's performance was worth watching.  But not only was he not in the movie much, but when he was in it, he was irritating.  He also doesn't have a very strong singing voice, so I can't really buy him as an arena rock singer.  While it's always nice to see Cruise play against type, it didn't feel like he was stretching himself in this role the way it did when, say, he played Lestat in Interview With the Vampire.

Fakery.  The lip syncing and autotuning were very obvious throughout, which is irritating in a movie where most of the singing is at a microphone.  Movie singing doesn't always have to be live to feel "authentic," but at least the lip syncing should be convincing.  I know it can be done -- I've seen it -- so the fact that it looks so obvious here is either lazy production values or ignorance, or both.

Characters You Can't Care About.  FFB and FFG are as bland as they come, which accounts for why I can't even bother to name them.  Jaxx is more interesting, but a jerk.  I guess if the movie deserves credit for one thing, it's that at least the plot line is more complex than Mamma Mia's, not that that would be difficult.

Does Not Make Me Nostalgic.  Granted, I never had much fondness for this era of music (I prefer early 80s or early 90s), but a good movie can make me feel nostalgia I never knew I had.  It wouldn't be that hard.  I remember that time period.  I was there.  Make me remember how awesome it was, movie!  Show some infectious spirit; make me feel the thrill.  Don't be so manufactured and meh.


When Rock of Ages tanked at the box office, many prognosticators claimed that it was because it was a musical, and therefore spelled doom for Les Miserables, which would come out later in 2012.  Fortunately that wasn't the case.  Rock of Ages didn't fail because it was a musical -- it failed because it was a bad musical.  And not even a "so bad, it's good" musical, but dull, flat, and paint-by-numbers.  It thought that it could be lazy and still make money because it had some good songs and Tom Cruise.  Fortunately, the public showed that it had more taste.

Sorry if my review seems rather flat and uninspired... call it a reaction to the source material.  I'll pick something better next time.  In the meantime, I'll leave you with the one moment I genuinely liked.

Other Movie Musicals That Got It Wrong: The Phantom of the OperaEvitaRENTAcross the Universe

Movie Musicals That Got It Right: DreamgirlsLes MiserablesChicago, Mamma Mia!

The above image was used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

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