Watching a movie in a theater is like being trapped in a room with the director, only you’re not allowed to talk. They tell you a story that lasts a couple hours, and if it’s a good story, you’re happy about it. Afterwards, you speak well of the story and the person who told it to you. You like them. Although you contributed nothing, you think of yourself as their friend.
But if they tell a bad story, well, you’ve been there, right? You’ve been stuck in a conversation with someone who rambles on and on without saying anything, constantly referencing art or popular culture while simultaneously demonstrating no understanding of the material whatsoever. Their story is trite and amounts to nothing, and for some reason they think that Journey was the musical highlight of the 20th Century. After a couple of hours of this, you’ll probably feel personally offended by their presence. If it goes on long enough, you may even want to hit them.
That’s what you’re stuck with if you watch Rock of Ages: a wrong, uninvolving, annoying film that insults your intelligence. I was unable to pummel the actual film stock, so instead I slapped myself in the middle of the film, repeatedly. I am not kidding. I am 100% serious, and I have witnesses. Rock of Ages is so dramatically insufferable that I thought that hurting myself was a viable option. I just wanted to feel something other than a two-hour auto-tuned anxiety attack with a soundtrack that would seem milquetoast to fans of “Glee.” And I should know. I’ve been a fan of “Glee.”
Rock of Ages is one of those musicals that takes existing pop songs and shoehorns them into a new storyline. That the storyline would have been trite in the 1950s is another matter. The real problem with this approach is that songs like “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “I Want To Know What Love Is” were never written to move a story forward. They’re expressions of individual sentiments, not progressions of emotion or plot, so every single time someone starts singing the movie has to stop and wait for them. Sometimes barely a minute of dialogue goes by before REO Speedwagon cuts in, leading to constant and painful frustration. It’s like a TV series that pauses for a commercial before the end of every single scene. Rock of Ages is chockablock with c*ck-a-blocks.
If you must know, Julianne Hough stars as Sherrie Christian (presumably someone’s sister), an aspiring singer who moves to Los Angeles with dreams of making it big. She gets a job at The Bourbon, the hottest club on the Sunset Strip, and falls in love with another young musician, Drew (Diego Boneta), who somehow seems like an even whiter version of Jay Mohr. Their relationship is based on nothing besides their good nature and the film’s need to break them up halfway through the running time. I’ve seen elementary school science fairs with better chemistry.
The Bourbon, run by Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, has problems of its own. It’s going to have to close if they can’t pay back taxes, so they’ve booked the most famous rock star in the world, Stacee Jaxx, to do a big show. Jaxx, played by Tom Cruise, wallows in decadence: he owns a bartending monkey, sleeps in a French braid of naked ladies and has a swimming pool in his dressing room. But he’s really a misunderstood genius, a victim of fame, et cetera, et cetera. There’s a lot of et ceteras in Rock of Ages. It leaves plenty of room to cram in more Bon Jovi tunes.
Like most Broadway musicals, Rock of Ages is based on a two-act structure, so the fit hits the shan fairly early. The couple breaks up, one of them discovers the highs and lows of stardom firsthand, the other hits rock bottom, and the club’s is in constant danger thanks to the machinations of a conservative church group led by Catherine Zeta-Jones. (Her anti-rock and roll society expresses itself through Twisted Sister and Pat Benatar songs, which makes about as much sense as Jerry Falwell starring in a porno movie.) The movie opens with a non-stop deluge of perkiness, and segues only into a non-stop deluge of maudlin perkiness. It’s hard not to feel assaulted.
The most frustrating thing about Rock of Ages is that it’s just bland. Really, offensively bland, like mayonnaise without all the pesky flavor. Say what you will about similar pop musicals, like Moulin Rouge or Across the Universe, but they had a point and a distinctive personality. Rock of Age’s story takes no risks, its characters are non-entities because they can only express themselves through someone else’s voice, and its songs fall flat because nobody seems to respect them. Sure, David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise” isn’t the greatest song in the world, but it’s from an era that Rock of Ages pretends to be celebrating. Instead, the film whitewashes the culture of an entire decade to use as a backdrop for a story that could have been applied to any time period with only superficial differences. It looks like a movie 1980s nostalgists, like myself, are supposed to fall in love with. But Rock of Ages doesn’t know what love is, and unlike Foreigner, it doesn’t even seem to want to.
Rock of Ages turns a counterculture explosion of deviant, wanton and public sexuality into something you could safely show your five-year-old. All you’d have to do is cut out the part where Tom Cruise sings into Malin Akerman’s ass. And somehow, it actually besmirches the good name of hair metal. If this isn't one of the worst movies of the year, we're all in a whole lot of trouble.