In the interests of full disclosure: the soundtrack for this film was the soundtrack of my life in the 1980s. I was a closet metalhead–closet only in the sense that I didn’t have long hair and wasn’t allowed to go to the rock shows by my Southern Baptist-raised mother. These songs are the songs of my formative teenage years, and I was already biased toward liking this movie before I sat down in the theater to view it. So fellow ‘80s rockers whose iPods and iPhones hold Poison, Journey, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, The Scorpions, Guns N’Roses, and the like, you’re going to love this movie, despite its myriad shortcomings.
Oh, and shortcomings it has. For one: how do you leave out Motley Crüe from the soundtrack? Talk about your quintessential 1980s L.A. rock band. There’s not even a cut from the Crüe in the original musical. Granted, Rock of Ages is, despite its full-on ’80s rock ensemble, a love story. And Motley Crüe didn’t make their bones belting out power ballads. Now it wouldn’t surprise me to learn, given Motley Crüe’s years-ago split-up, then later reformation, that there may have been some legal wrangling that proved too costly. Or maybe, being the quintessential 1980s L.A. rock band, the Crüe simply didn’t want their tracks being associated with a Broadway musical and its film spinoff.
One shortcoming which will come as no surprise: the plot’s really thin. The entire reason there’s even a plot is to give us reasons to have these songs performed. I’m sure if you took the original music videos for these songs, or video of their best live performances, strung them together one after another, and released that to theaters, we ’80s rockers would be just as apt to shell out our ten bucks each to sit down and enjoy that hour and a half. One will note that Rock of Ages’s running time is just a hair over two hours, which tells you there’s about 30 minutes of nearly useless, music-less filler to slog through.
Casting: whew, we could be here awhile in this regard. But I’ll try to keep it brief. Alec Baldwin is amusing in his role as Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree, but you could easily interchange him with any number of actors. Malin Akerman is pure eye candy as a reporter from Rolling Stone. Really? A swimsuit cover model type cast as a reporter from Rolling Stone? The other supporting roles are as equally interchangeable among the Hollywood glitterati as Baldwin’s.
Julianne Hough is endearing as Sherrie, and we all know she can sing. (All the actors did their own singing, painfully obvious in a line of one song where Baldwin chimes in.) Mary J. Blige as Justice, the owner of The Venus Club, is a treat, and you want to hear more of her covering Pat Benatar and Quarterflash than to put up with another round of anything from Diego Boneta. My feelings regarding the lead casting of Boneta as Drew are best summed up by this line from Tom Santilli in his Examiner review (read after I saw the film):
He seems more suited for musical theater, which I guess this is, but he just seems like the kind of guy Stacee Jaxx would have beaten up in high school.
And speaking of Stacee Jaxx, this leads us to Tom Cruise. Like many, when I saw Cruise was taking the role of the fictional rock legend, I had serious doubts he could pull it off. And while I don’t think his singing voice is quite right for certain numbers (“Paradise City”, most notably), he sings well enough to indeed pull it off. I’ll also give Cruise points for giving an appropriately dark performace as a rock god who’s having trouble accepting his place in music history, and not knowing where to go next. I got the feeling he was channeling Axl Rose as the latter dealt with his own issues following Guns N’Roses’ ascendance from overnight success to rock institution.
There’s a lot to ding Rock of Ages for, but all in all, it’s a fun movie. And if the soundtrack of your life was like mine during that time period, you may find yourself wanting to go see it again.