Rock of Ages is kind of a fascinating movie. Not because it’s good, it’s not. It’s roundly pretty bad and at spots it flirts with being terrible. But then, a lot of movies are bad, why is this one interesting? Because of the way it, and the style it chose, cause the movie to fail. That’s not to say the movie itself is actually interesting to watch, it’s mostly just dull. But it’s one of those movies that might be interesting to study, purely in the academic sense.
The first and biggest problem with this movie is the choice of music. See Rock of Ages is a song catalogue musical, which means that instead of composing your own music, the musical is based around pre-existing music, typically of a single artist although not in this case. This doesn’t NEED to be a bad thing, Jersey Boys is awesome and Across the Universe isn’t bad, but it does make writing characters and story more difficult since instead of the music adding to the story and characters, it instead takes time away from them, which means your story is probably going to wind up pretty flat.
As in this case. The story is devoted to a boy and a girl working at a rock club called the Bourbon room, which has fallen on hard times and under scrutiny from anti-rock religious crusaders. The owner is betting the farm on the last performance of Arsenal, a heavy metal band with an insane lead singer about to go solo. The boy and girl’s budding romance is threatened by the cold realities of the music industry and…hey, wake up.
Yeah, it’s not the most original story in the world, but it’s the kind of thing some flair can make up for. But the issues run deeper than the basic outline of the story. The best example, in my opinion of this, is Mary J Blige’s character a…bartender I think, at a local strip club. She gets a lot of screen time and lead parts in a lot of the songs, but her character doesn’t seem to go anywhere, and she hangs around long after her part in the story is over.
It doesn’t help that most of the song covers are terrible, with the Glee problem of the more I like a song the more I hate their cover (and before you ask, no I don’t watch Glee). Most of the cast is hopefully out of their depth and humiliating themselves. The two leads are incredibly bland, Catherine Zeta-Jones is amusing but given two of the worst songs in the entire thing and Bryan Cranston keeps dropping out of the movie. And while Tom Cruise’s insane comic performance is one of the few bright spots (seriously, he’s actually funny) his singing is just fucking awful, to the point where I wonder why they didn’t dub him.
There are bright spots, aside from Cruise’s insanity. Paul Giamatti is fine as the villain (good in everything, remember?). Russel Brand and Alec Baldwin work well together, and the payoff song to their vibe is probably my favorite bit in the entire movie. But they aren’t enough to make up for the movie’s awful screenplay and strangely dead direction. Seriously, musicals call for a lot of directorial flair, but here the director (who previously directed the pretty good film of the musical of Hairspray) seems to be content to just point the camera and fall asleep. It’s not as bad as Mamma Mia, but that’s beyond damning with faint praise. Skip it.
Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’d like to ask whoever owns the rights to Wicked to call him.