views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Rock of Ages (12A)
Vue, Islington
11th June 2012


The songs (in their original form), an utterly wasted Mary J Blige, Bryan Cranston and Paul Giamatti.

I thought that I'd better list the things I liked about Rock of Ages at the top of this review, in case they get lost when complaining about everything I truly hated.

Based on the West End show of the same name, Rock of Ages is a stadium rock jukebox musical in the same vein as Mamma Mia! or We Will Rock You. In fact, it shares more than a strand of DNA with the latter, as the plot basically follows the same metaphor of rock and roll as liberation, featuring a pair of clean-cut star-crossed lovers and a threatening woman wanting to put an end to it all.

From the opening scene of professional Hayden Panettiere-lookalike Julianne Hough singing on a bus with strangers joining in, it wears its silliness on its sleeve. Not a problem for a bit of fluff, you could argue. But the silliness is so safe, the entire film so by-the-numbers US studio committee, that the spirit of rock is crushed under corporate interests.

Hollywood suits clearly made a checklist of every currently popular thing available and ensured they are soullessly transferred to the screen for maximum profit. I realise this isn't a new thing, but never before has it been so clear. We have the High School Musical/Glee attractive cookie-cutter couple, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise once again tediously proving he can laugh at himself by playing against type and, to top it all off, a monkey in an array of funny suits pulling faces. Yes, despite what PG Tips decided in the mid-90s, these are apparently still funny. Even the vaguely well-observed set dressing and era-creation is wiped clean of any charm by director Adam Shankman.

Hough and pretty boy Diego Boneta make up the saccharine romantic leads and the film constantly lags any time they are on screen. They join Russell Brand as (a Brummie when he can remember to be) Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin as an ageing rock club owner. Unsurprisingly, the entire cast save a woefully underused Blige are autotuned to death. Even Tom Cruise's turn as sex-machine rock star Stacee Jaxx is every boring old music industry joke made flesh. If I were Axl Rose or Iggy Pop, I'd probably think about pressing charges for defamation.

Director Shankman, who brought us the unwatchable Pacifier and Cheaper By The Dozen 2, proves that his work as director of the okay-ish Hairspray and choreographer on the sublime Buffy episode Once More With Feeling have been happy accidents rather than the result of any discernible talent.

He was, I suppose, the obvious choice to direct, but save a couple of passable dance routines, he is staggeringly out of his depth. It shocked me to discover Shankman is openly gay as I felt genuinely uncomfortable at the homophobic undercurrent of one or two played-for-laughs scenes. Maybe this was just a point where directorial intent and audience response are totally at odds with one another, but even that is a worrying turn of events.

Although I have never seen the stage show, I can at least applaud writer Chris D'Arienzo for featuring a wholly downbeat ending for most of the characters. One that screenwriters Justin Theroux and Allan Leob have unceremoniously ditched for an eye-rolling feel-good piece that shamelessly panders to the American market.

It is staggering that the obviously cynical production of a film and the anti-selling out message of that movie can be so divergent, but Rock of Ages manages it. As Mamma Mia! or any Adam Sandler film proves, quality is not directly proportional to revenue. And this will undoubtedly make a fortune.

If Almost Famous, Detroit Rock City or, heck, even Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny were love letters to rock and roll, Rock of Ages is a horse's head in its bed.

Rock of Ages was released in the UK on 13th June 2012.

Nearest tube station: Angel (Northern)

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