The buzz is all about Tom Cruise as the reptilian, Jim Morrison-esque rock star Stacee Jaxx. Cruise is eerily real as a specific kind of top dog who has had every wish granted and every appetite fulfilled as lead singer of the classic rockers Arsenal.
It’s a seminal moment as we meet him. His band will play its last gig together at the Bourbon (a thinly disguised Whiskey Los Angeles’ leading rock palace), before embarking on a solo career. It is 1987, hair rock time.
Meanwhile a young, naïve, blonde (Julianne Hough) in denim and gingham, intent on grabbing the Hollywood dream, alights from a bus, beaming that she has reached her mecca. Her luggage is stolen almost immediately and an aspiring rocker (Diego Boneta) finds her work at the Bourbon. It’s going to be busy with the imminent arrival of Arsenal. Club owner (Alec Baldwin) and his right hand man (Russell Brand) envision the huge payday coming their way. A beautiful Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Ackerman) is enroute to interview Jaxx. Everything is in place for a big night, er, musical.
The usual frets of club owners booking rockers especially in the 80’s - Will they show? Will they be sober enough to play? – are times ten concerning Arsenal, due to Jaxx’ legendary megalomania and selfishness. He does what he wants and if he can leave the babes and the booze alone long enough to perform, it’s sweet, lucrative relief.
Meanwhile Catherine Zeta-Jones leads a group of protestors outside the club demanding that an end be put to satanic rockers like Arsenal, specifically Stacee Jaxx. News cameras are onsite to get the faceoff between rock and righteous. Jaxx’ oily manager (Paul Giamatti) has his eye on a new talent. And Mary J. Blige shows up as a gentleman’s club owner across the road. Lives will be changed this night.
The Rock of Ages music is incredibly seductive – the big rock anthems and cheesy love songs of the 80’s, usually relegated to the back seats of pop culture, are dug up and given fresh life. It’s inspiring and you can’t help but sing along.
Tom Cruise has the rock god persona down pat, he’s bigger than life and highly sexualized, igniting the crowds with his outrageousness. At some point, Cruise tends to push a bit beyond what’s needed, but in all, he does a masterful job. It would be fun to watch Valkyrie right after seeing Rock of Ages. Then Magnolia and then Tropic Thunder. Thanks for not wearing a mullet btw, Tom.
There are plenty of sexually suggestive scenes, and unsavory ones, but the overall tone of Rock of Ages is squeaky clean, fresh, fun and nostalgic, it is “this close” to being able to take your parents to see. The only full sex scenes – between Ackerman and Cruise - features them in underwear and the growing gay attraction between Baldwin and Brand is played for comedy with a little sincerity.
Some may quibble, but Hough does a great job as the aspiring singer. Her arc is the most interesting of the ensembles’ and she plays it convincingly enough – as a naïve Midwest girl coping with life in the 80’s fast lane. Her boundless energy in the song ‘n’ dance numbers and her megawatt smile scream “good career possible”.
But Tom Cruise is the biggest bang for the buck.
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Written by Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo, Allan Loeb
Directed by Adam Shankman
Opens June 15
Runtime 123 minutes
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language