Rock of Ages | Movie review
Adam Shankman’s jukebox musical makes for one long night of bad karaoke.
What do American Idol, Glee and the new jukebox musical Rock of Ages have in common? Beyond their karaoke-culture appeal—oh good, more blandly earnest renditions of popular songs—all three have now cannibalized “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” for crowd-pleasing purposes. Journey’s happy-hour staple functions as the “Purple Rain” of this pandering stage-to-screen adaptation (see Theater for a review of the latest touring production), about a pair of starry-eyed songbirds (Diego Boneta and country-music star Julianne Hough) who meet cute on the Sunset Strip circa 1987 while chasing their respective rock & roll dreams. In a glaring missed opportunity, the two are not named Tommy and Gina.
The plot, which swirls around a Los Angeles hot spot run by Alec Baldwin’s aging promoter, is just an excuse to string together and mash up a series of hair-metal standards. What’s more embarrassing than Catherine Zeta-Jones, as a Tipper Gore–ish moral crusader, awkwardly vamping it up to a church-organ cover of “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”? How about the opening number, in which a busload of strangers chimes in for a “Sister Christian” sing-along? (Sorry, but Boogie Nights has ruined that one for all future filmmakers.) Rock of Ages even taints its most inspired casting choice by forcing Tom Cruise’s swaggering, burnout rock god to acknowledge and confront a creative slump. In what version of reality do bands like Poison or Def Leppard even have an artistic legacy to besmirch? Penning “Pour Some Sugar on Me” ranks just above performing the song on The Voice as an expression of musical integrity.