Rock of Ages. An 80s RockFest ripped from the Broadway stage, feasted upon by a bare-chested, tattoo-scrawled, codpieced, baboon-loving, hip-wriggling Stacee Jaxx – aka Tom Cruise – loved by boys and girls alike in a glorious LA spin of clubs, lights, hotpants, Machiavellian managers, reinforced breasts and sweaty hormones.
Apparently, there are reasons aplenty not to enjoy Rock of Ages, the latest offering by Hairspray‘s Adam Shankman. There is cheesiness, there is Catherine Zeta-Jones, there is, above all, tackiness. But, surely a musical about Heavy Metal in 1980s’ Los Angeles would die a death most painful if it didn’t burst through the seams with the ridiculous splendour of the big hair, tight trousers, ripped shirts, heart-wrenching lyrics and eye-lined drama that we remember from these days? Rock of Ages has all of these by the ton and it revels in them. This is a film that features many active tongues but I would argue that the most active tongue of all is the one lodged firmly in the cheek of the film makers.
Describing the plot of Rock of Ages is hardly worthwhile but in it we have a young country girl, Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough), who arrives in LA from Oklahoma and within the space of a few heartbeats sings her love for her new town, is mugged, meets Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), a stage-shy singer, and lands a job at the Bourbon Club. On the seedy 1987 Sunset Strip, the Club is run by the hard-drinking but deep down sentimental Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand. The mayor’s wife (Zeta Jones) has one mission and that is to close the Club, the infestation of Stacee Jaxx. But each protagonist finds him or herself – some thanks to an article being written in the Rolling Stone – through music and through rebellious sexy independence.
Speaking as someone who has cause to remember the fun of 1987, I thoroughly enjoyed the memory of these glory days, when pop chewed on the leather studded coat tails of the rockers and anyone with half a rock soul would laugh in its sequinned, capped face. All right, some of the songs now, maybe even then, were a little tired and, to Punky Britain, seemed very American and foreign, but I remember these days. I remember An Officer and a Gentleman when Richard Gere strode out of the factory with Debra Winger in his arms to an almighty soundtrack. This is what Rock of Ages evoked.
This feeling was intensified by the hairless chestyness of Tom Cruise in the central role of Stacee Jaxx, the Rock Star, on the edge of surviving. Drugs, booze, women and a baboon have driven Stacee to his limits, egged on by his ravenous manager Paul Gill, played by the excellent Paul Giamatti, who always keeps an eye out for the next new thing.
Set against the familiar tale of boy meets girl, played out with much charm by Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, we have a song-ridden sweaty glory-fest, with Tom Cruise at its heart. The song and ‘dance’ with Malin Akeman stole the show for me. Funny, sexy and, dare I say, even tuneful. The clothes strip off, the tongues wiggle and stretch and before you know it you’re in another lost world. The fact that Tom Cruise is a little older and is so, so famous is a huge factor. He may be teasing us, as he did with his anti-role in Tropic Thunder, but it is no mere caricature. There is such a feel for the time and place. That doesn’t stop it being cheesy and ridiculous but Tom gives it his all. The fact that Akerman gives her sexy best and matches him move for move doesn’t hurt in the least.
Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, our young heroes, are far more cheesy because they have none of the gravitas of Cruise or that of the great singer he portrays. Nevertheless, there is so much fun to be had with their tan, their hair, their makeup, tight clothes and innocently unbelievable sweet love, all set to tunes, some familiar and others less so.
Once you get used to the idea that anyone can burst into song at any time, there is so much to enjoy in Rock of Ages. I’m no fan of Russell Brand but his double act with Alec Baldwin is a hairy delight. Similarly, Paul Giamatti gets some great lines. Alec Baldwin fulfils his role with gusto, reminding me of Pierce Brosnan’s enthusiasm in Mamma Mia, but, above all, we have Tom Cruise exerting the force of his stardom to powerful, charismatic effect. Mary J Blige as the Club owner that allows Sherrie to shed even more clothes in a Rocky manner is also quite a draw, and a tuneful one.
It is just possible that to enjoy Rock of Ages as much as I did, it helps to be an age that remembers these days first hand and can revel in their rebirth. But, I would strongly argue that this is an ageless film. Some of the songs may be cheesy but it’s more than likely that we all remember the words. Sing along!