Rock of Ages was a surprise hit on Broadway; a show with a real sing-along quality that wasn’t afraid to make fun of itself while paying homage to 80’s hair metal. Unfortunately, the recent film version seems to lack some of the fun of the stage musical, opting for a more serious tone that drags down the entire production.
Built around lots of well known 80’s songs, the plot is rather simple. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is an Oklahoma girl, just off the bus in Los Angeles, with dreams of making it as a singer. Drew (Diego Bonita)—who also happens to be nursing his own dreams of rock stardom—a bar back at the Bourbon Room, the place famous for launching the career of mega-band Arsenal, is able to convince the club’s owner, Dennis (Alec Baldwin) to hire her as a waitress. Despite the Bourbon Room’s status as a legendary place on the Sunset Strip, Dennis is facing major financial problems and mounting pressure from the town’s mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his pedantic wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to close the doors. Dennis’ only hope of staying afloat is to host the final performance of Arsenal, before their legendary lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) embarks on a solo career.
A Rolling Stone reporter named Constance Sack (Malin Ackerman) arrives to interview Jaxx before the show and finds herself seduced by the boozed up frontman, but also ends up uncovering things about the rocker he isn’t ready to face.
Director Adam Shankman successfully brought a Broadway musical to the screen with 2007’s Hairspray. However, Rock of Ages is a different kind of musical, trading doo-wop for heavy guitars and Shankman doesn’t seem as comfortable with the material. Shankman has brought along plenty of lights, glitter and memorable songs, but a lackadaisical story, lack of energy and a weak cast makes for a largely disappointing experience.
Tom Cruise and Malin Ackerman managed to bring a sense of ridiculous fun to Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” with their pool-table romp, and Alec Baldwin and his right hand man Russell Brand share a funny and sweet moment to the strains of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling”, but for the most part, the numbers lack any real spark. Hough and Bonita give it their all medley’s of Sister Christian / Just Like Paradise / Nothin’ But a Good Time just aren’t in their wheelhouse. Hough is a country singer from Salt Lake City Utah and Diego Bonita seems nice enough, but he reminds me of Justin Guarini of American Idol fame; the farthest thing from a rock ‘n roller.
As disappointing as the film is, it does have a few bright spots. The performances of Baldwin, Brand and Zeta-Jones add some real humor to the proceedings. Though it surprised me, Tom Cruise is the breakout performer here, as the meandering metal superstar. He really plays the drugged up, sexually potent Stacie Jaxx perfectly—a man totally self assured as a persona, but no longer sure who he really is.
The Blu-ray includes an extended cut of the film, which runs thirteen minutes longer and includes a longer version of the interview with Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack. This doesn’t particularly add much to the story. Also included, is dance/pseudo-sex scene between Cruise and Hough. Given the obvious chemistry between Cruise and Hough, this was obviously cut because they are never supposed to be a couple.
The 2.40:1 1080p transfer looks great, delivering the various colors, leather and big hair of the ‘80s with wonderful clarity. Black levels are just as solid and there are no digital anomalies to report. Detail is top-notch, with faces looking realistic throughout.
Unfortunately, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track isn’t as all enveloping as one might like. Much of the audio is delivered through the front speakers, with only slight enhancement from the rears. For such a music heavy film, you’d expect more activity from the surround field, but it’s noticeably lacking. Even so, the songs are noticeably louder than the dialogue, which may have you reaching for the remote anytime a character does speak. While this isn’t a terrible track, I would’ve expected a better mix here.
English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles are available.
The set includes DVD and UV Digital Copy of the film as well as the following special features:
- Legends of the Sunset Strip (HD, 29:56): ’80s rockers—Brett Michaels, Frankie Banali, Dee Snider, Joel Hoekstra, Kevin Cronin, and Joe Elliott among others—discuss the music, excesses, women, the highs, the lows and the parties of the era.
- Behind the Scenes: Defining a Decade (HD, 35:34): Actors Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough host seven behind-the-scenes production featurettes: “The ’80s Look,” “It’s All About the Moves,” “Stripping Miami,” “The Tease,” “If You Build It, They Will Rock It,” “Connection to the Music” and “So It Started In a Bar.”
- The Stories We Sing (HD, 12:53): The ’80s rockers return to talk about about the songs in Rock of Ages.
- Music Video (HD): “Any Way You Want It” with Mary J. Blige, Constantine Maroulis and Julianne Hough.
- Musical Numbers (HD): Dance to one of twenty musical numbers from the film.