Rock of Ages, the musical about Hollywood dreams coming true in the context of '80s songs that you only hear when frat bros play them on the jukebox at Lost Weekend, opens in theaters
tomorrow today. Because it was filmed down here in Miami, we've been tracking it for about a year. But that doesn't mean we were happy about it.
So our expectations were tempered when we finally got to see the end product -- the thing we've been writing about since what feels like 1987, which incidentally is the year the movie is set. Not being "Gleeks" or "Gleeniacs" or whatever Glee fans are calling themselves these days, we knew we weren't exactly the target audience for this film. We figured it would probably suck. But we were wrong.
Rock of Ages would not merely suck. This would not be a movie you can just stroll away from, saying, "Huh, so that was pretty bad," then move on with your life. Oh no. It gets inside you, this movie. Using music to which you know all the lyrics whether you like it or not, Rock of Ages presses up against your eardrums until you relent, letting it crawl deep inside your psyche, where it proceeds to torture you relentlessly with its soul-crushingly vapid acting, brain-liquifyingly boring characters, and shockingly, recklessly socially irresponsible plot -- all as Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" plays in the background.
It's not just another shitty movie. It's a cinematic apocalypse. Here's why.
It's Such a Musical
Even for fans of musical theater, Rock of Ages is a little too "musical-y." Our screening audience was so uncomfortable during the opening musical number, during which a bunch of shady characters abruptly turn and start singing to Julianne Hough on a bus with no context whatsoever, that we could hear people shifting in their seats and chuckling under their breath. And this wasn't some hoity-toity screening for filim snobs; our show was open to the public and included an open bar and an '80s costume contest. It's not like this wasn't the target audience. This was too much and not enough, all at once, right out of the gate. Motorin'!
If you're not from South Florida, Rock of Ages' sets probably just look like a Britto-tinted version of the Sunset Strip. But if you've been to Revolution, where the scenes inside the film's central location the Bourbon Room were filmed, or drove down the downtown stretch of N. Miami Ave. that served as the exterior of the Bourbon Room, you're going to have a problem. That's because every time a character inside the Bourbon Room walks outside, they're traveling from Ft. Lauderdale to downtown Miami in a single step. Not in the world of the film, of course -- but that world is so shoddily constructed, looking like the Sunset Strip as recreated by Disney's Imagineers, that it's hard to forget you're looking at your own backyard.
Y'know what's no longer funny? Sassy monkey antics. Maybe back in the black-and-white days before Jane Goodall showed up and reminded us that animals have feelings, the "primates: they're just like us!" bit was fresh and original. But even if you don't give a flinging poo about the well-being of the animals, you've gotta agree that the joke is over. Tom Cruise's monkey, named Hey Man, is forced to run through the all the stereotypes: wearing people clothes, giving humans attitude, and baring his teeth in a "smile" to show just how precocious he is. Why are we still laughing at this, people? It's the animal version of "...and boy, are my arms tired!"
Offensive to Everyone
For a movie that satirizes mainstream Christianity's aversion to sex, Rock of Ages has some seriously conservative undertones. You've probably read by now that Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand share a kiss in the film. We don't want to give away any spoilers, so we'll just say that it's treated with the same progressive attitude that brought you I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. The scene immediately following features a musical number promoting a stripping career as female empowerment, which is an issue way too complicated for a shiny, one-dimensional movie like Rock of Ages to even attempt to address in an unoffensive manner. (And, of course, by the film's end we've learned that a career as a stripper is just one rung above a career as a boy band member on the respectability ladder.) The strip club, by the way, is just about the only place you'll find any black actors in the movie; Mary J. Blige plays Justice Charlier, the madame in charge. We get that '80s hair metal was a predominantly white phenomenon, but a major motion picture casting its only prominent black actor in the ghetto -- literally, the strip club is in the ghetto -- still doesn't seem very rock 'n roll.
Tom Cruise is the Best Part
No, really. His take on the strung-out, egomaniacal rocker stereotype is surprisingly original and entertaining. But it's not like he has much to compete with. Watching the lead couple, Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, fall in love is like watching two puppies playing: They're all adorable and wide-eyed, awkwardly falling all over each other, until one of them nips the other a little too hard. Then they stagger around for the better part of the film, wimpering and pathetic. And even worse, singing. Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the church lady who just needs a good lay, has crazy eyes for the entire film, which would be funny if it weren't so frighteningly severe and manic. And then there's Baldwin and Brand, whose phoned-in performances border on disdain for the entire project.
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Not that we can blame them. Rock of Ages wasn't setting out to be high art. It was setting out to be brainless, happy, shiny, fun entertainment. But what it turned out to be was a series of music videos featuring some stars you probably recognize, strung together with a yawn-tastic plot and characters who never earn even the tiny amount of ADD-level attention its audiences can offer them.
And you know what? It is going to make so much money.