Most rock musicals are well rounded, spreading the songs and silhouettes across a linear plot that brings audiences from point A to Z, with added ‘P’ for Pop. And this fact alone means that Rock Of Ages was never destined to be anything more than Saturday afternoon dreck, bolstered by a wafer-thin plot that was denser than the crotch Tom Cruise spends half of the film stroking. It was relatively easy for Cruise to waft in and out of the flick with smouldering poise – he’s been doing much the same since 1996, especially since he started a chain of Mission: Impossible franchises – but it’s more disappointing to discover that stalwarts Bryan Cranston and Alec Baldwin have nothing better to do than sing along to a series of hackneyed 1980s anthems when they aren’t a series of bimbos they would never have slept with, even at the height of their fame.
Rock Of Ages is a very vain film, and not in a flattering way. Instead, it spends its time commemorating an era of rock that should have been binned long ago, as it focuses with laser-like intensity on the sub-sect of heavy metal that detailed the sexual exploits that were somehow permitted to enter into the songs. And that makes the existence of the film all the more curious.
By 2012, rock had taken a more egalitarian face, as it recognised the importance of women as artists in the realm of rock. Whether it’s Malin Akerman or Julianne Hough walking interchangeably as the resident blond babes, serving as the mouthpieces for the men in question, whether it’s acting as the voice of reason for artists searching for truth in an industry based on carnage, or satisfying the muscular rockers by virtue of their oral skills. Indeed, Rock Of Ages is a deeply sexist film and seems determined to write females off as insects who are destined to carry the sperm of the men rocking out on the stages. Even Catherin Zeta Jones‘ Patricia Whitmore falls to Cruise’s animal-like charm, letting her chaste, conservative bosoms get fondled by the rock brigade in an effort to discredit her crusade in tackling down the steam of sexually charged rock.
To perhaps an even greater extent than Cruise’s preening postures, Russell Brand takes on the role of rock icon, exhibiting the many cliches that Spinal Tap had effortlessly parodied in their piercing, yet pointed, 1984 film. But where Spinal Tap knowingly set up the trappings of turbo-charged metal excess, Brand seems happy to enjoy the opportunity to reprise the caricature he formed for an American audience in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Brand, as ever, simply plays Brand, resorting to crude, crusty fart gags when his acting runs out of momentum, or simply stops being funny, which with Brand, is virtually the entire performance. Brand’s presence in the film isn’t mere padding, as it gives the film a certain gravitas, but as with much of the film, it’s the wrong kind of gravitas.
The one saving grace is the Def Leppard numbers, which brim with energy and confection-filled irony, which is a relief we couldn’t give if the film was littered with Muse songs. What’s less fulfiling is the presence of ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, the Journey anthem that wound up in everything from The Sopranos to Glee. By the time the piano hook enters, audiences have started singing the lyrics to the number before the crusty vocals come in.
2012 was the time of musicals – Les Miserables was out in the world – but it was also the time of naturalistic musicals, as the creative teams pushed non-singers to deliver the rousing ballads that were traditionally sung on Broadway. Tom Hooper was savvy enough to plunge viewers into a grittier, more run-down milieu, which compensated for any failings his actors (yes, including Anne Hathaway) might have held in the vocal department.
Rock Of Ages, on the other hand, uses as many neon lights as Blade Runner, stylising the world around them with the ferocity of an MTV stylist, which makes the cater-wauling that emanates from Baldwin’s mouth during ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ all the more awkward to sit through.
Baldwin’s singing is as scattered as the film itself, and the finished result is as inconsequential as a packaged holiday, but will likely appeal to the people who journey to the sea-side resorts as a means of torrid escape. But for anyone expecting something more intellectual, or more rousing, would be better off saving their money for a better-rounded product that cements the journey over reverie.