Watching Rock of Ages is like listening to a bonkers 1980s-themed concept album, one which goes on for five or six tracks too long, feels like it was put together by hammering the selection keys on a jukebox, and ultimately leaves you with a sense of nostalgia-tinged confusion.
Top of the bill are country singer Juliette Hough and Mexican actor/singer Diego Boneta as fame-seeking young lovers in LA, but the stars of the film are found in the supporting cast, a roll call that includes the likes of Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti and Russell Brand.
It’s an adaptation of the stage musical of the same name, which I have not seen, but the general gist of the film is that various well-known actors get together to sing covers of famous 80s rock songs, romp around in choreographed sequences and generally enjoy themselves. The plot is a paper-thin gimmick that exists to drive the musical numbers, and if you accept that, then there is fun to be had with Rock of Ages.
Though the story nominally concerns our young lovers’ dreams of stardom and success, it’s happy enough to dump them when more interesting elements – like Tom Cruise’s performance as ageing rock legend Stacie Jaxx – can be shunted on screen. Although this gives the film a rather jagged, all-over-the-place structure, it isn’t actually much of an issue, because as much as the two leads are at home in the musical numbers, their acting skills are decidedly below those of the rest of the cast. It doesn’t help that they get some of worst dialogue in a script that is frankly laughable at times.
There are extended cameos throughout the film from actors who look variously like they’re having the time of their lives, or else have no idea what’s going on. Alec Baldwin, as the owner of rock and roll club The Bourbon Room, in and around which much of the action takes place, looks to be in a perpetual state of semi-embarrassment, but his scenes with Russell Brand actually get most of the film’s best laughs. Elsewhere, Catherine Zeta-Jones clatters and stomps around as the wife of newly-elected Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston), declaring war on rock and roll because the plot has to have some reason to do all of this. Her performance of Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot is absolutely mad, a baffling tongue-in-cheek megamix of the flabbergastingly weird.
The film opens with a Tom Cruise cover of Paradise City, and later charges through a strip club variety show performance of Any Way You Want It, belted out by Mary J. Blige in a luminous body suit. Every now and again Paul Giamatti strolls on sporting a diabolical ponytail, argues with a monkey, proves he can’t really sing and then strolls off again. If any of this sounds like fun to you, then Rock of Ages might well float your boat. It’s overlong, overblown and couldn’t establish a convincing plot if its life depended on it, but it sings at the top of its lungs, and if you haven’t gone deaf by the mid-point, you might just find yourself humming along.