The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rock of Ages

If there is a time more ripe for the picking in terms of a musical spoof extravaganza, I can't think of a better one than the late 1980s. Glam rock and hair bands ruled the world with their huge power ballads, filling arenas and venues wherever they went with their screaming, adoring fans. Over 20 years later, it's easy to see how cliched, stereotypical and easy to pick on this time was, but treading that fine line down the middle is 2012's Rock of Ages. It's struggling in theaters so if you want to see it, don't wait too long.

Having left small-town Oklahoma behind, Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) gets off a bus in Los Angeles on the Sunset Strip and gets a job as a waitress at the famous rock club, The Bourbon Room. She has dreams of hitting it big as a singer, and hits it off immediately with a bar-back at Bourbon, Drew (Diego Boneta), who has similar dreams of becoming a star. The Bourbon Room is in trouble though as a crusading mayor and his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) want to shut down the rock scene for the "sake of the kids." The club looks like it's got one shot at saving itself, and that's the first show of rock god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) and his band Arsenal's farewell tour.

Oh, did I mention this is a musical? No? Okay, well more on that later. From director Adam Shankman comes an odd but interesting, off-beat but funny and in the end, entertaining movie. Considering the source material, 'Rock' thankfully doesn't take itself too seriously, having some fun with the general extravagances of the music industry in the late 1980s. It's all pretty ridiculous with a pretty thin script, but it's fun just the same. With so many (we're talking lots of songs) musical numbers, there just isn't enough time to actually develop much of a story other than 1. Girl falls for boy. 2. Club must save itself. 3. Huge star begins to question himself. 4. Parents' groups try to ruin rock. Nothing particularly new there in other words.

Maybe it was just the commercials (or lack of) I saw, but not all of them painted this as a musical. Thankfully before seeing it, I did figure that out, but it was clear when Hough's Sherrie bursts into song 6 seconds into the movie that....hey, I think this is a musical. Brace yourself, but here's a list of the bands featured here, the cast doing their own covers. And away we go with....Night Ranger, David Lee Roth, Poison, Foreigner, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, Extreme, Warrant, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, Def Leppard, Quarterflash, Whitesnake, REO Speedwagon, Journey, Starship, Guns N' Roses, and Scorpions. Disappointed in that listing? That's just the songs that get the full treatment. There's another handful or so that are sampled at different point. Some songs fit better than others, some are more entertaining than others. Certain songs seem jammed into the sake of the story for the sake of having it there, but I guess that's what happens with a rock opera featuring that many different songs.

I'll get into the cast more in a minute, but Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx is getting his own paragraph here. Nearing his 50th birthday, Cruise has found ways to stay fresh with his film roles, and this is a prime example of that. Lead singer of Arsenal, Stacee is planning to go solo and is everything good and bad about the industry at the times. A diva who guzzles liquor, has countless groupies with him at all times, and has a baboon as a servant named 'Hey Man.' In one great scene with a Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman, surprisingly funny), he goes on this rant about who and what he is, getting more out there with each passing word. A one-on-one with club owner Alec Baldwin is hysterical, neither man sure if the other one understands what's being said, symbolism and metaphors flying, Cruise questioning "Can you house a rising phoenix?" Cruise alone -- committing full force to the exaggerated portrayal -- is worth the price of admission.

The rest of the ensemble is more hit or miss unfortunately. Hough is a stunner to look at, and a very talented singer/dancer, but as an actress she's just not there yet. The same for Boneta as Drew, neither lead character producing much interest for the viewer (for me at least). Baldwin and club partner Lonny (Russell Brand, who I'm typically not a fan of) are a match made in heaven, Baldwin's Dennis Dupress desperate to keep his club open, Lonny a diehard rock fan at his side. Some of the funniest scenes -- including one priceless duet -- comes from them seemingly working on the fly. Zeta-Jones and husband Bryan Cranston are tolerable but nothing more. Paul Giamatti is an appropriately slimy manager for Stacee, and ends up being a suitable villain. The very talented Mary J. Blige is given little to do but belt out some songs as Justice, owner of a high-class strip club.

My objection here has little to do with the fact I'm reviewing a musical (brace for lightning strike) but more the actual music. Your enjoyment/hatred will no doubt come from your background with the music. Do you love big 1980s music? You'll love the movie. Using the songs though as the script though comes across as lazy to me. In certain places, it feels like a square peg into a round slot, getting a song into the story for the sake of it being there. And at a sometimes slow 123 minutes, there's a lot of singing. It gets to be like celebrity karaoke at a certain point. Good songs? Yes, you bet. Too much of a good thing? Yes, you bet. Still, the movie is genuinely funny, and some members of the cast -- Cruise, Baldwin, Brand, Giamatti -- make it worthwhile. Just know what you're getting into.

Rock of Ages <---trailer (2012): ** 1/2 /****

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