Pour some sugar on Judge Patrick Naugle, so he can rock you like a hurricane.
Rock and roll all night and party every day.
I dare you to turn on Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and not want to sing along at the top of your voice. I double-dog-dare you to do the same for any song by Journey or Van Halen. The fact is, while many consider hair metal bands trite and unsubstantial, they sure knew how to create hook-heavy pop masterpieces. Hollywood now offers fans a love letter to the 1980s with the big screen adaptation of the Broadway hit Rock of Ages, available on Blu-ray from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Welcome to The Bourbon Room, one of the most famous nightclubs on the Sunset Strip. The year is 1987 and Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough, Footloose) has just arrived from Tulsa, Oklahoma, with dreams of being a world famous singer. While walking down the street, she has a meet-cute with Drew Boley (Diego Boneta, Mean Girls 2), who just so happens to work at the Bourbon Room. When her suitcase full of records and belongings are stolen, Drew gets Sherrie a job at the club as a waitress, working for grizzled owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock). Dennis and his partner Lonny (Russell Brand, Get Him To The Greek) are trying to find a way to pay their back taxes before the IRS shuts down the club; their lone hope is getting legendary Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol) play one last show before he cuts ties from his insanely popular band, Arsenal. At the same time, mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad) watches as his intensely religious wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta Jones, Chicago) calls for a boycott of the Bourbon Room due to its sex, drugs, and (what else?) rock and roll. Throw in a sleazy record producer (Paul Giamatti, Sideways) looking to screw over anyone he can, and a mousy but sexy Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman, Watchmen) who falls for Jaxx's charms, and you've got a rock musical for the ages!
Show me to a soul who doesn't like the '80s and I'll show you a person with a heart of stone. This decade of decadence is often viewed (through rose colored glasses) as a simpler time in American history. In a way, it's become my generation's 1950s. The nostalgia for He-Man, Speak-n-Spell, and neon spandex seems to have no bounds. Cults are practically built around things like the Star Wars sequels and Cabbage Patch Dolls, oozing with a desire to capture the years post-Pong and pre-iPad. It's not surprising that filmmakers are eager to capitalize on the Reagan era vibe with movies like Adventureland and Take me Home Tonight. If it's about the '80s, it's gotta be good. Right?
The stage version of Rock of Ages hit Broadway with a loud hair-sprayed howl, built upon classic hair metal tunes by the likes of Poison, Twisted Sister, and Extreme. The show was a surprise hit, offering up a rock and roll experience like no other. Of course, any time Hollywood smells a hit, they send their executives forth to acquire it. Adam Shankman's big screen Rock of Ages immediately drew a wealth of star power, following closely on the heels of similar powerhouse adaptations like Chicago, Hairspray, and Rent. However, where those films were able to capture the key qualities that made their stage predecessors so successful, Rock of Ages fails on every level. I wouldn't wish this bloated, boring, screeching mess on my worst enemy.
Considering the themes and music involved, I expected to absolutely love Rock of Ages. Instead, I found myself looking at my watch and hoping this plodding story would wrap up as fast as humanly possible. I didn't care a lick about any of these characters. I didn't care how their stories unfolded or what the final outcomes would be. And, most of all, I didn't want to hear another song butchered by actors who aren't known for their singing.
Maybe I have too much love for this music, but listening to this cast belt out songs like Journey's "Don't Stop Believin" and Starship's "We Built This City" was more than I could bear. Those who revel in listening to second rate karaoke versions of your favorite rock songs—yes, I'm speaking to you, Glee fans—will absolutely eat up Rock of Ages. The rest of you will need ear plugs…and a lobotomy.
There is nothing here that even remotely passes for engrossing narrative. The script was cobbled together from old '80s movies that, even then, were creaky and outdated. From Sherrie and Drew's sticky sweet meeting and the tired old "we need to have a concert to raise money for a cause" theme, to plot points that never pay off (two characters are gay…for about 8 seconds), Rock of Ages is a total dud.
To make matters worse, the performances are all one-dimensional. Julianne Hough's Sherrie Christian (yes, based on the songs "Oh, Sherrie" and "Sister Christian") is absolutely beautiful, but she does little here to further her acting career. Diego Boneta is forgettably bland as her love interest, spending most of his time trying hard to play tough. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Paul Giamatti offer up painful stereotypes, playing stock versions of religious nuts and slimy record executives. Alec Baldwin comes off only slightly better as Dennis Dupree, saddled with a rather tame Russell Brand whose character was intended to be the film's narrator.
As difficult as it is for me to admit, Tom Cruise is the only ensemble member who walks out of Rock of Ages completely unscathed. His Stacee Jaxx lights up the screen, making me believe he is a self-destructive louse bent on bedding any woman that moves.
Rock of Ages could have been a real hoot. All of the elements were present to create a rock solid Hollywood musical leveraging the most fun songs of the last thirty years. Yet somehow Shankman and his team (including producer Toby Maguire and screenwriter Justin Theroux) screwed up every creative choice, except for the casting of Cruise…and even he couldn't save this train wreck.
Presented in 2.40:1/1080p high definition, the transfer is far more impressive than the story or the music. Detail is very good with nary a major defect to be found, colors are bright, and blacks are deep. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is sonically bombastic, with front, side, and rear speakers all heavily engaged. When the songs kick in, the track goes into overdrive, filling your room with Alec Baldwin's off-pitch voice. Also included are alternate language Dolby 5.1 Surround tracks in French, Spanish, and Portuguese, as well as English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles.
Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes documentary ("Defining a Decade"), a featurette on the Sunset Strip's historical musicians hosted by Brett "Poison" Michaels ("Rock of Ages: Legends of the Sunset Strip"), a featurette about the musical stories ("The Stories We Sing"), a music video for the song "Any Way You Want It", a tourism ad for Florida (the film was shot there), a standard def DVD copy, and an UltraViolet digital download.
Sometimes audiences get it wrong (how else can you account for the success of most Adam Sandler movies), and sometimes they get it right. Rock of Ages made a bold arrival and sank like a stone; one of the best decisions the movie-going collective made in Summer 2012.
Like paying for front row Rolling Stones tickets and stuck seeing Barry Manilow.
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