Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, Rock of Ages initially looks like an ’80s hair metal version of Glee. In many ways, that’s exactly what it is. Yet somehow Rock of Ages is a lot of fun to watch, especially if you’re a fan of (or grew up in) the ’80s.
The premise is basically the same as Poison‘s “Fallen Angel”; a pretty Midwest girl takes a bus to Los Angeles in hopes of finding fame alongside the likes of her favorite bands such as Aerosmith, Poison and Lita Ford. Played by Julianne Hough, who has parlayed her Dancing with the Stars and country music talents into starring roles in cheesy musicals like Footloose and Rock of Ages, this small-town girl soon meets her male counterpart (Diego Boneta), an aspiring singer currently sweeping floors at the famed Sunset Strip dive The Bourbon Room. Both struggling to make it, the couple is equally excited to find out that rock messiah Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) will soon be at The Bourbon Room as part of his band Arsenal’s final show.
But Jaxx is equal parts Jesus and Satan, and his aura creates desire and destruction wherever he goes. Like a cross between Axl Rose, David Lee Roth and Jim Morrison, Jaxx has developed a reputation for being the most unreliable man in rock ‘n’ roll. He’s rarely seen without a liquor bottle in hand and without at least three groupies at his side (or piled on top of him), he travels with an eccentric baboon named Hey Man, and Kevin Nash is one of the hired muscles that makes sure no one gets too close. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the conservative wife of the mayor determined to shut down The Bourbon Room and take Jaxx with it, but it turns out her fight is personal as she has some history with Jaxx herself. And when Jaxx finally arrives at the club for his performance, it is both a blessing and a curse for Sherrie (Hough) and Drew (Boneta) as Drew’s band gets to open for Arsenal, but not before Drew sees Sherrie coming out of Jaxx’s dressing room and gets the wrong idea.
The second act is nothing but tragedy as Sherrie meets the owner of a gentlemen’s club (Mary J. Blige) and becomes a star stripper while Drew signs a deal with Jaxx’s sleazy manager (Paul Giamatti) and ends up in a ridiculous boy band. The Bourbon Room is on the brink of closing due to unpaid taxes and a lurid Rolling Stone cover story reveals the inner workings of Jaxx’s world (including some dishonesty on the part of his slimy manager).
But all is soon well for everyone as Jaxx performs his first solo show at The Bourbon Room (but not before Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand profess their love for each other), Sherrie and Drew work things out and actual ’80s rockers like Sebastian Bach, Extreme‘s Nuno Bettencourt, REO Speedwagon‘s Kevin Cronin and, uh, Deborah Gibson (?) make cameos. And the whole thing is set to the tunes of Skid Row, Twisted Sister, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard and Journey, with mash-up medleys to help further the story.
Is it cheesy as hell and dimensionally simplistic? Of course. It’s a musical based on hair metal. It ain’t lookin’ for nothin’ but a good time. How can I resist?
Rock of Ages. Directed by Adam Shankman. Starring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand. Rated PG-13. rockofagesmovie.warnerbros.com.