Back in the late ‘80’s to early '90's, a good buddy and I would often hit local independent music stores like Rhino Records and Amoeba Music on weekends. While he’s on his neverending quest to add to his impressive Beatles bootleg LP collection, I would be in one of my Metallica or Iron Maiden t's browsing the hard rock/heavy metal section. Ah, good times.
When I heard that the Tony-nominated Broadway homage to ‘80’s rock was being made into a movie a la’ ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Chicago,’ I couldn’t be happier. Back in March, I caught ‘Rock of Ages’ during its last week at the Pantages and had an absolute blast, so I knew that I’d probably enjoy the movie too. And the movie certainly did not disappoint. Many critics panned RoA for being a ‘jukebox musical’ because the story took a backseat to the songs, but they’re missing the point here because in RoA the story fits around the songs, not the other way around.
In ‘Glee’ fashion, RoA is ambitious and covered songs from popular ‘80s acts like Journey,’ ‘Poison,’ ‘Scorpion,’ and ‘Foreigner’ among others too numerous to mention. For what it’s worth, RoA is the story of a small town girl (Julianne Hough) from Oklahoma seeking fame and fortune in LA who fell in love with an aspiring young rocker (Diego Boneta) at a popular but seedy club on the Sunset Strip called the Viper, ahem, Bourbon Room. But even more than that, it’s also an uplifting story of redemption for ‘tortured’ rock star Stacee Jaxx, played to near perfection by Tom Cruise, who somehow managed to channel Axl Rose and Jim Morrison in equal measure for the role. Alec Baldwin as club owner Dennis Dupree and Russell Brand as his partner Lonny provided welcome comic relief, and Catherine Zeta-Jones was also great as the mayor’s wife who embarked on a moral crusade to shut down the 'sinful' Bourbon Room because she had an axe to grind with Stacee Jaxx.
But who cares about the flimsy story, because it’s the songs that truly shined. All the rock hits featured in the movie are fun and infectious, taking us on a trip down memory lane, and Adam Shankman (‘Hairspray’) did an admirable job in the big screen adaptation. While the musical was a true ensemble affair with no particular character standing out, this movie needed someone to ground it, and that someone came in the form of Tom Cruise, whose Stacee Jaxx is a much more pivotal character in the movie than in the musical. If you like ‘80’s glam rock/hair metal, this movie is not to be missed.
RoA may never attain the cult stature of a ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ but it more than stands on its own as an entertaining rock musical comedy romp through the '80's suitable for ages 13 and up.
8 out of 10