“Rock of Ages” is a unapolagetic mash-up of 80s pop-rock and hair metal music, loosely held together by a storyline of stereotypical rock and roll elements: the wide-eyed midwest ingenue coming to LA, the busboy with the desire to be a big star, the scumbag agent, the skeevy middle-aged club owner, the Tipper Gore-esque crusader, and of course, the larger than life rock star who’s lost touch with reality.
If you “ain’t lookin’ for nothin’ but a good time”, you’ve found it. There’s actually a lot of fun to be had here.
It does, however, get better than this.
From the opening shot of Julianne Hough’s bus ride to LA, when the passengers bust out Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” with her, “Rock of Ages” establishes its tone in two ways. 1) It’s going to be full of the music of the 1980s and 2) Said music is only going to be loosely fitting lyrically to the scenes they’re used in.
Yes, “Rock of Ages” is a non-stop parade of 80s music… virtually every rock artist that ever charted in that decade is represented: Journey, Bon Jovi, Reo Speedwagon, Foreigner, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, Pat Benatar, David Lee Roth, Joan Jett, Whitesnake… and many, many, many more. Often the songs are cut together or played off of each other in mash-ups, and other times we’re only given a brief snippet. At all times, they’re only vaguely applicable to the scenes they’re used in.
As opposed to classic musicals which wrote their own songs, however, “Rock of Ages”‘ style of karaoke dj’ing takes famous songs and uses them at times or in ways that would be vaguely appropriate. Romance happening? Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You” Zeta Jones rallying her moral majority troops to protest? Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”. Stacee Jaxx trying to express the loneliness of Rock and Roll superstardom? Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”…
Which is essentially my biggest beef with the movie. It’s really actually a very slight story that only serves to string together music videos, which in turn only apply to the story in the thinnest of ways. It all adds up to be wayyy beyond non-substantive.
But that’s alright to me because it’s very entertaining.
I’ll openly admit to having a soft spot for this music. This was “my era” so to speak, with the jean jackets and the chicks with the huge hair, etc etc… and time has a way of breeding a fondness for the music of your era even if it was trite garbage that during the day you turned your nose up at. Yes, even though my friends and I were forced to mitigate the incessant stream of sugar-coated pop/rock vapidity with copious amounts of early Guns and Roses, Suicidal Tendencies, and pre-Black Album Metallica, I’ll admit that the confectionary ear candy utilized by “Rock of Ages” resonates with me now on a nostalgic level.
Should someone not have that special soft spot, they may not connect with the movie as I did, but they may be won over by the cast, regardless. Hough and Boneta are at the forefront, and they’re fine… they each sing well enough, and are both young and enthusiastic. It’s the big names that give the movie its mojo though. To a person, the stars in the cast here go all out. They completely give themselves to their performances. Zeta Jones performs “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” with the intensity of an angry, kickboxing cheerleader. Cruise lolls his head around and utters non-sequitors like a lobotomized space cadet, but then writhes and exhalts on stage as if he was actually a rock star and not a movie star. Giamatti is a scummy, sleazy devil of a manager, and Baldwin and Brand have a duet that is beyond hysterical.
“Rock of Ages” may be a thin excuse to trot out 80s music and let everyone play at rock and roll for a couple of hours, but its definitely fun and at times, a LOT of fun. It may literally BE “nothin’ but a good time”, but I found it hard to resist.