Tom Cruise plays the satanic rock slave Stacee Jaxx in Rock Of Ages
Depending on whether you're a Glee-obsessed 14-year-old girl or a 50-year-old accountant desperately trying to relieve his youth through Rock Band, cock opera Rock Of Ages will represent two types of dream come true with two potentially insufferable hitches. Can the former bear to sit through two hours of spit-and-polished hair metal just to see hot young things Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough prance around in tanktops and denim cut-offs? And will the latter withstand the barrage of squeaky clean Bon Jovi / Journey / Poison (etc.) covers just to recapture the wreckless romance of their youth, portrayed so well here by director Adam Shankman and an incredible, all-guns-blazing Tom Cruise? You can bet that neither will get quite what they came looking for, but they'd need to try real hard not to have had nothin' but a good time... yeah, I'll cut that out right now.
Let's disregard the plot (because hey, the film does!) and get right around to Cruise, whose delusional, tattooed rocker Stacee Jaxx is a barnstorming creation, brought magnificently to life by an actor who really doesn't get enough credit for his comic chops or self-awareness (which had been effectively explored well before Tropic Thunder's Les Grossman). If he weren't glugging whiskey in every frame, one might get the impression that a crimson vial of cocktail'd blood and cum, splashed with vodka, would be Jaxx's drink of choice, but Cruise doesn't just play the aging metal icon for obvious ego and eyeshadow laughs. Introduced as the cushion for a half-dozen nubile groupies, Jaxx gets the screenplay's most unusual treatment, and provides the film's comic and dramatic centerfold. It's a stroke of genius from Shankman to get the man who once played leechy sex guru Frank T.J. Mackey to channel Jaxx's satanic rock spirit, and Cruise's casting has another obvious benefit - if the film is determined to explore Jaxx's psychology, albeit skin-deeply, then having the world's biggest movie star acting as surrogate adds an interesting, perhaps unintentional deconstructive streak, perfect for the star whose very public meltdown on Oprah's couch remains the definition of "career suicide." Jaxx is portrayed here as a brand; an idea and object of sex for the writers and readers of Rolling Stone magazine. He's a touring freakshow. I know many people who would (cruelly) say the same things about Cruise, who bleeds cold, sexual charisma here; especially during a rousing rendition of Wanted Dead Or Alive.
In fact, only when he leaves the film does it becomes painfully obvious how vapid and unengaging our leads are. Hough tries her hardest, bless her, and Boneta almost leaves an impression, but they're both so wet and attractive that they completely fail to register as believable characters, and we never really learn anything about them, other than they're in love and that's cool. The screenplay works hard to force a wedge between them, but it really should be focusing on the cast of cartoonish side characters, who are all an absolute hoot! Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the bible-thumping Mayor's wife Patricia; Paul Giamatti (sporting 70s pornstar hair and 'tache) is Jaxx's greedy manager Paul; and the unlikely duo of Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, co-owners of the Bourbon Room, are hilarious throughout, boasting an enviable chemistry well explored in their big musical number. It's only when they're separated that the leads become semi-interesting, as Boneta's starry-eyed Drew is forced to ditch his rock dreams and become part of a vomitous hip-hop/pop hybrid, mocking of all those New Kids On The Block type groups who popped up and ruined radio in the early 90s. As a gag it's pretty solid, but as a character beat it's woefully misjudged - we know he'll don the guitar once more and get back together with Sherrie, but Jaxx's skimpy leather chaps remain the film's most riveting enigma.
And what of the songs? Many have been bemoaning the very idea of a jukebox musical fusing all of those annoying rock favourites from the 80s, but then, if you didn't like those songs in their time, why would you even consider watching them Gleeified thirty years later? It's pretty much the same rule as with standard musicals: if you don't like showtunes, stay away from showtunes. If you don't like Bon Jovi, you should probably file Rock Of Ages in your Avoid Like... book right under bubonic plague. Personally, I'm not huge on the music, but for various personal reasons it holds a nostalgic place in my heart, and therefore I can't help but get a little misty-eyed when Every Rose Has Its Thorn is used for a pivotal romantic interlude. Most of the songs are mixed and performed well by a game cast, and as you'd expect, the production values are slick and sleek as Van Halen's pants. The mix of We Built This City and We're Not Gonna Take It is especially effective for the finale, and kicking my ankles was actually all I could do to stop from getting up and dancing.
It's airbrushed and auto-tuned out of all logical proportion, but for the sheer cock-piece-powered excess on display, Rock Of Ages rises above (or perhaps falls way short of) expectations and manages to bring the house down. Whether they'll be laughing, crying or singing along, I just don't know.
Rock Of Ages is in cinemas now...