Adam Shankman was the man who brought successful Broadway hit musical Hairspray to the big screen with huge film stars including John Travolta as a woman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken and Queen Latifah. It seems he still has that musical bug because now he has tackled Rock of Ages, a relatively new musical in terms of popularity. However, once Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing featured on show Glee, anything featuring the song was worth a look. He doesn’t disappoint with his cast list – Catherine Zeta Jones, Paul Giamatti, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand and none other than Tom Cruise.
Set in 1987, the film focuses on several mini stories all centred around the most famous club on the Sunset Strip – The Bourbon Room. This is owned by Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and run with the assistance of his right hand man Lonny (Russell Brand). Working in the bar is Drew (Diego Boneta), a man who dreams of being the next big rock star, bigger than Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), the club’s most famous star to date. Working his shift one night he meets Sherrie (Julianne Hough from Dancing with the Stars and the Footloose remake) who has just arrived in LA to make it as a singer too. She gets mugged and Drew helps her get a job waitressing at the club.
The two soon become lovers as they head on their quest for fame and fortune. Dennis is plagued with overdue bills and money troubles, so he organises for Stacee Jaxx to perform his first solo gig at the club so he can get a large percent of the takings, saving the club from closure. Meanwhile across town the new major’s wife, Patricia Whitmore, played by Catherine Zeta Jones, is forming her own plan to get rid of all the rock music and shut down The Bourbon Room for good. She leads a group of church-going females to take on the disgusting sound of rock and roll. Stacee Jaxx, however has his own issues as he descends into a state of madness, often being drunk whilst hanging out with his baboon friend, Hey Man.
The film tells a slightly different story than the stage show, which is surprising if you have seen the musical. The show focuses on the two young lovers and their relationship that doesn’t come together until the end of the musical whereas here in the movie it is full-on from the beginning. Zeta Jones’s character doesn’t exist at allin the show, instead there are two German business men who want the lease to the club so they can tear it down and build condos to create a much nicer looking sunset strip.
Upon the release there was a bit of debate as to how the Stacee Jaxx character would be handled in the film; in the show he is a washed-up mess who only gets worse over the course of the show. He also has some rather raunchy scenes. It is fair to say the film has been kinder to Tom Cruise, but he certainly does more than his fair share of surprising his audience, singing I Want to Know What Love Is” into Malin Akerman’s bum is certainly up there.
Most of the hits of the show are present although sadly some don’t make the cut. What is most impressive is the singing capabilities of its stars. Zeta Jones is no surprise in the vocal or dance department because she wowed audiences back in 2002 in Chicago. This said, she still looks completely amazing and could wipe the floor with its younger stars. Alec Baldwin is certainly better than Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia whilst Brand isn’t bad either. Cruise, however, is the real surprise. Not only does he shock with his trim physic, he seems to really enjoy playing a rock star complete with long hair (last seen on Cruise in Interview with the Vampire) and rock voice. He more than holds his notes when he belts out songs like Wanted Dead or Alive, and the result is truly impressive.
The film’s comic moments weren’t as strong as in the stage show and sadly the same could also be said for its young leads. They aren’t terrible but it is the veterans that really shine. Lonny’s character, played here by Russell Brand, is the narrator in the stage show and has a few comedic opportunities but here it doesn’t work so well. This was quite surprising as Shankman actually has a comic playing this role. This was the film’s biggest let down as it doesn’t create as many laughs as it could have done.
Rock of Ages is perfect for anyone who loves musicals, loves classic tunes or loves Tom Cruise being involved in the above. It’s unfair to say it’s his movie, but that isn’t an understatement. Forgive the cheese in the film and its corny lines, it is the 80’s after all.
Best performance: Tom Cruise.
Best line: Dennis – ‘Hey man’
‘No this is Hey Man’ – Stacee Jaxx