Hough and Buffed Cruise Make Rock Of Ages a Delight
By Scott "Dr. Music" Itter
My hand shook as I handed the coupon to the young girl behind the glass. There were so many choices I could've made with that "two free tickets" coupon. I mean, there was Ridley Scott's Alien re-hash, Prometheus, or even the animated talking monkeys of Madagascar 3 (in 3D, mind you) seemed a viable option. But, no. I said in a voice that resembled my hand, "Two for Rock Of Ages, please." She didn't ask me if I was sure, she just waited patiently as the metallic slab between us starting vomiting all the necessary paperwork. There was no turning back now.
I wanted to see the stage production of this retro musical masterpiece because there's nothing quite like 80's hair metal and classic hits of that time period to get me smiling and mentally reminiscing. But, when I heard what they had done with the film adaptation, I was slightly horrified. "Why isn't everyone horrified," is what I kept asking myself. Tom Cruise singing Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is"? Paul Giamatti singing on Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again"?! Alec Baldwin.....singing?!! What sort of sick, cruel joke is this?! But, lo and behold, there I was taking my seat in the theater as the title of the film lit up the screen.
The movie took off like a bat out of hell (without any Meat Loaf) and delivered high energy music and a hard rock concert atmosphere. You immediately get thrown into The Bourbon Room, a hard rock club owned by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), a washed up dinosaur of the Sunset Strip. A fictional Whisky-A-Go-Go (Get it? Bourbon....Whisky), the place is swimming with crazed metal fans, loud music, and even louder hair. Not a bad place to start. As we're introduced to our lead character, Sherrie Christian, played by Dancing With The Stars legend Julianne Hough, she arrives on the Strip with a busload of people singing "Sister Christian." Yes, it was a bit corny and strange, but a bit fun and cute as well. I guess I thought the songs in the film would be done as "performances," not as part of their actual speaking roles. It truly is a "musical," not just a movie with music. Hough quickly meets what is to become her love interest, Drew Boley, played by Diego Boneta. Boneta and Hough are perfect in their roles as sweet kids trying to find their place amidst an ocean of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The story goes through some "love lost" moments and some alcohol abuse themes, and we see our lovable stars get down-n-out, but it never really goes to a dark place. The story keeps a light-hearted, positive tone, and it's always refreshing and fun in its approach.
Enter our mysterious, almighty god of rock and roll, Stacee Jaxx. Tom Cruise plays the role of Jaxx, and he does quite a nice job. This is a role that finds Cruise as a dark, Zen-like, egomaniacal rocker with a passion for sex and alcohol. Having any 50-year old actor play a wild young rock star of this kind just sounded like a bad idea to me, but Cruise pulls it off nicely. We even hear him sing a big handful of tunes, and my good God, he isn't half bad at that either! Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead Or Alive" was excellent, and Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is" was surprisingly well represented. Cruise should be commended for his work ethic in getting both physically buffed, as well as vocally tuned for this role.
One of my favorite moments in the film is when we see Hough, having just lost her true love, walking the Hollywood streets in the rain singing Quarterflash's "Harden My Heart." I've always loved the mood created by that song, and the cinematography here made the moment come alive. Oh hell, maybe it's the costume design department that I should be thanking. Seeing her in those heels and that short ruffled skirt, while the big 80's hair gets tamed by the rain, was spectacular. As strip club owner Justice Charlier, played impressively by soul singer Mary J. Blige, literally picks her up off the wet street, we soon find Hough becoming even more seductive as she eventually finds a pole to wrap her legs around. Hough is absolutely stunning as the film's "dream girl."
This is a Grease for the 80's hard rock generation. As Grease had its nudges at sexuality and degenerate behavior, Rock Of Ages brings that same naughtiness to a more modern day and age. The playfulness of the movie is really what makes it so likeable. Even though the movie oozes with sexuality, with Cruise captaining the ship, it stays playful and fun instead of dirty and obscene. The movie seems to thrive on that playful sexuality, as well as the cornball moments and the awkward times. The most awkward moment being when Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand sing REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling" together. Uhh, yeah, awkward. Baldwin and Brand are great here, and provide some excellent comedy throughout the film. The sexy but conservative character of Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) adds to the hokeyness by dancing and singing Pat Benatar tunes with her PMRC-like comrades, while protesting against anything to do with Stacee Jaxx. And, Paul Giamatti is brilliant as usual, playing the role of Jaxx' greedy manager. There's even a baboon named Hey Man to add to the character insanity. It all makes for some cornball stuff, but it's a boatload of fun.
This one is especially for all you folks who lived through this era first hand. Make sure when you're watching the movie you look at the posters on the walls, the flyers, the records in the bins at the record store, etcetera. I think I saw the band Jetboy listed on every piece of paper in the film, and it made me feel great. I thought I was the only one that knew about them. And, look for the cameos from rockers like REO's Kevin Cronin, Skid Row's Sebastian Bach, and Night Ranger's Joel Hoekstra, who also played in the Broadway stage production. There's all kinds of stuff to look at so enjoy your trip back to 1987!