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In this month’s “The Movie Guys LIVE!” show, we predicted that “Rock of Ages” would be a lot like “Caddyshack”, in that “Caddyshack”’s story is not ACTUALLY about Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield, it’s really, as the title suggests, about the caddies and their wacky teen relationships and Danny Noonan’s shot at winning a golf tournament. Well, sadly, we nailed it. “Rock of Ages” isn’t REALLY about Tom Cruise, Paul Giamatti, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand and the other marquee names in supporting roles. It’s actually about two young dreamers in 1987 L.A. And that’s a problem.
Julianne Hough stars alongside Diego Boneta, who I think wore more makeup than Hough, as the rock-ballad-drenched couple in love. They both work in a bar in Los Angeles trying to live out their dreams of being famous singers, although you never really see Hough’s character pursuing anything other than a day job. And she has a Britney Spears-type modern whiny/crybaby voice that’s nothing to pay $10 for (no doubt altered in post). My wife said she’s so pretty that you forget how badly she sings. Then she has a song during the end credits, and you can no longer see her, or her cleavage, and it all becomes clear.
The first scene in the film involves Hough leaving Oklahoma for the City of Angels. She gently sings “Sister Christian” out the window as the bus passengers join in. What? This is a major misuse of this song in a film about the music business. That song should be saved for her first encounter with a sleazy record label guy or the club owner who’ll give her a shot on stage if she just gives up the goods in the sack. So, I knew we were in trouble. This film immediately felt like someone’s wacky remembrance of what they heard the ‘80s were like, instead of a portrait of how they were, told by people who were there.
I was quickly reminded of Julie Taymor’s “Across the Universe”, a visually inventive movie where the characters occasionally broke out into Beatles songs, but after a while, I was really missing The Beatles. Same here, after hearing Boneta bring a musical-theatricality to “Juke Box Hero” and “Waiting for a Girl Like You”, I was dying for Lou Gramm to grab the mic and show us how it’s done.
Speakinawhich, there is NO DOUBT who this movie belongs to. After a whole lotta plot involving Hough arriving in L.A. and getting a job at the Bourbon Room with Boneta, Cruise grabs the mic and makes the movie his own in a fantastic rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”, one of the few numbers that actually works in context, as the song is used to explain his character’s wild life as a rock star. Other songs, like Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling” seem crowbarred into the story. In fact, “Can’t Fight This Feeling” is part of a giant gay joke that just doesn’t work.
But even after the great “Wanted Dead or Alive” number, the script proves again that it loves getting mired down in movie musical clichés. When Cruise is done with his song, a Rolling Stone reporter he’s talking to continues to put challenging questions to him about his attitude and the fact that he’s breaking up his band, Arsenal. But didn’t the reporter just see the same musical number we just did? I think his argument for his incredible power has been made. You gotta change the script at that point and stop putting the reporter on the attack. We’ve all been converted, she should be, too.
In the end, whether it’s Ann Reinking butchering “Against All Odds” at The Oscars or Britney Spears doing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, rarely is the idea of people singing covers awesome. It just makes you long for the original artists. I mean, up till now when you listened to “More Than Words”, did you think, “Man, this would be so much better if Julianne Hough sang it.”
Directed by: Adam Shankman
Release Date: June 15, 2012
Run Time: 123 Minutes
Distributor: New Line Cinema