From the opening scene where a bus full of people start singing along to a medley of Sister Christian‘s hit ‘Night Ranger’ and David Lee Roth’s ‘Just Like Paradise’ the audience know they’re in for something a little different. Based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name, Rock of Ages tells the story of an Oklahoma girl, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) who travels to Los Angeles to make a name for herself as a singer. After being robbed on her first night, Drew (Diego Boneta) a barman at the legendary rock club The Bourban Room convinces its manager Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) to hire her as a waitress.
As is the case in stories as predictable as Rock of Ages, the two fall in love and both inspire each other to better their lives, usually through the medium of song and dance. The fact that they perform a host of classic rock songs (hence Rock of Ages) helps to ease what could have been an unbareable experience. Add to this veritable feast of REO Speedwagon, Def Leppard and the now obligatory Journey hit, a cast of Hollywood A-Listers like Paul Giamatti (slimy record executive), Bryan Cranston (cheating Mayor), Catherine Zeta Jones (uptight anti-rock protester) and Russell Brand (ex-rocker-turned second in command to bar owner Dupree) and Rock of Ages becomes a thoroughly enjoyable if cliched sing-a-long.
The newcomer duo at the centre are perfectly acceptable, if a little dull to watch, but their story is so played out now that the scenes where they talk, rather than sing really drag the pace of Rock of Ages to a crawl. It’s also a little depressing to see a sanitized, nostalgic view of the rock era of the 1970s and 80s. In a post-Glee world it’s not surprising that the rights to the smash hit musical were picked up by a studio, but just when you think you’ve seen it all before, Tom Cruise rises from a bed of half-naked women and turns in a show-stealing performance as aging rock God Stacee Jaxx.
Cruise happily plays up to his somewhat uneven personal persona and is ruthless in the process. He seduces every frame that tries to contain him and is so convincing you can’t help wondering if he missed a trick by not actually becoming a rock star. His muscular, snake-hipped and tattooed lothario is like a tornado of testosterone, lust and hard SEX, yet it is his quieter more solemn moments that give Rock of Ages its true central relationship. While being interviewed by Rolling Stone journalist Constance Sack (Malin Ackerman), Jaxx reveals the personal hell that drives his success and status which leads to a mini-narrative that mirrors the central one, but with much needed emotional gravitas. But this should not detract from the other A-Listers who all give their all and never once play-up to the camera and it is this surprising and refreshing honesty that allows Rock of Ages to become a true satire.
A rip-roaring rock anthem soundtrack combined with some truly outstanding performances from the supporting cast makes Rock of Ages a rare thing in modern cinema, a film that is just plain fun. While Cruise is the real star, it should be noted that Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin share the single best scene in the film as they perform a duet of REO Speedwagon’s ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling,’ which is worth the price of admission alone.