Years ago, there were ads for incredibly inexpensive recordings of some of the best hit songs from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Queen, Chicago and others. The ad always assured you that the songs on the record were performed “by the Original Artists.” Then you bought the record and it reeked, because the Original Artists was the name of a no talent band that tried unsuccessfully to copy the true original artists. That’s what I felt like watching Adam Shankman’s “Rock of Ages:” it boasted some great 1980’s rock music, but performed by people less talented than the original artists. The storyline in “Rock of Ages” is completely unoriginal: Sherrie, small town girl from Oklahoma, follows her dream of being a big star in Los Angeles. She falls in love with Drew while working at a bar famous for discovering musicians. But as fame and the famous call, the two star-crossed lovers break up. Meanwhile, the bar is in financial trouble and the mayor’s wife launches a morals crusade to shut the bar down. Will the lovers reunite? Will they find financial success? Will the bar shut down? Will I think I’m watching an old Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie? “Rock of Ages” boasts an impressive cast that seem to sleep walk through the picture. Julianne Hough (“Footloose”) plays the naïve but determined Sherrie, a beautiful woman with limpid blue eyes that the camera loves. Diego Boneta (TV’s “90210”) portrays Drew, the musically talented stage hand who just needs a break and the love of a good woman. Alec Baldwin (“It’s Complicated”) plays the stoned owner of the bar against type as a guy with a heart; Russell Brand (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) basically plays himself as Baldwin’s right-hand man. Tom Cruise (“Mission Impossible”) portrays a stereotypical boozing womanizing prima donna. Paul Giamatti (“The Ides of March”) is the conniving agent who corrupts everything he touches. Malin Akerman (“Watchmen”) is the hard-bitten Rolling Stone reporter infatuated with Tom Cruise. And Catherine Zeta-Jones (“Chicago”) is the self-righteously angry mayor’s wife.
“Rock of Ages” pokes massive amounts of fun at itself. Some of it is intentional. But the writers seem unaware that the over-the-top theatrical ranting by Catherine Zeta-Jones against the corrupting influence of rock and roll, pious posing that is supposed to come off humorously as zealous hypocrisy, accurately describes the rock and roll “scene” depicted in the movie: sex-obsessed musicians and fans, rampant use of liquor and drugs, and a corruption of innocents who are enraptured by the music industry. At one point, Sherrie “stoops” to be a stripper—yet that profession is seen as somewhat glamorous, while the sleaziness of the rock and roll music industry is pervasive. Drew is inexplicably drawn into a pop “boyz” band, apparently to allow the audience to snicker at how far music has fallen, but that episode of the movie just highlights how artificial ALL music in this movie is, including rock and roll. For the real disappointment here is the music. Rock and roll pulsates power and passion—but not in this film. Other than a couple of numbers, the songs as performed in “Rock of Ages” are just plain boring. Part of this has to do with Director Adam Shankman’s (“Hairspray”) penchant for pairing up songs and having them performed simultaneously by multiple players, a gimmick that disrupts the continuity of the songs. The staccato editing of the musical numbers and the remarkable similarity in voice types of all the singers (male and female) make for difficulty in differentiating perspectives in the songs. A few of the musical numbers come off well, particularly “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” performed by Zeta-Jones in a church and “I Wanna Rock” performed on stage by Boneta, but by and large what should be potent fervor comes off as tediously pedestrian. If you want to see a movie about rock and roll, watch the underrated “Bandslam,” but don’t waste your time and money on “Rock of Ages.”