Rock of Ages

Art & Culture

If ever a film was a curate's egg (see this for an explanation), this is it. Parts are excellent, and funny, parts are completely awful, and the whole thing is a mess. And Tom Cruise steals the show.

You don't have far to go to find cliches, and the film opens with a classic. Smalltown girl Sherrie arrives in California from Oklahoma, looking for a career as a singer. We've had a sample of her talents on the bus, with the rest of the passengers joining in enthusiastically. On her arrival in L.A., her suitcase is stolen, complete with all her precious albums, but a hunky young dude shows up, and befriends her. She gets a job at the Bourbon Club (run by Alec Baldwin, with a little help from Russell Brand), and life is just about perfect.

That's one of the many narrative threads in the film. Another concerns Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) legendary lead singer of heavy metal icons Arsenal (this is an American film, football fans), who is managed by slimy Paul Giamatti, and whose career is being derailed the familiar cocktail of sex, drugs (or booze) and rock n roll. Next up, there is Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), wife of the mayor, whose avowed intention is to clean up the town, and the Bourbon Club in particular. And finally, there is Mary J Blige as Justic Charlier, who runs an exotic dancer nightclub, and whose main purpose seems to be hang around looking soulful and sing songs. In other words, she has no purpose whatsoever.

I won't mention the Rolling Stone journalist (Malin Ackerman) so as not to confuse you, but you get the idea that there are a lot of plot threads here, all in search of a coherent narrative and conspicuously failing to find one. Now of course you'll tell me this is a musical and a plot is neither here nor there, and you might have a point, but 2 hours is an awfully long time to sit and watch people with big hair miming to cover versions of rock ballads from the 80s.

Tom Cruise, as well as making sure we think of him as unswervingly heterosexual, is the best thing in the film. Despite supporting billing, he appears throughout, and the film is at its best when he's on screen, complete with his personal monkey called Hey Man, and the litter of broken bottles and groupies that are strewn across the room. He's pretty good on stage too, revealing his 50 year old torso at every opportunity  – which is in pretty good shape. This performance comes from the same place as his marvellous scumbag in Magnolia (though Stacee is a lot less vile), and suggests that he has a new career beckoning as the lead singer in a heavy metal tribute band.

Just to get one thing straight. This is not real heavy metal, this is the territory of Poison, Kiss, Aerosmith and the like; posers who wave their guitars around and have hair extensions and sing ballads which are about as heavy as thistledown. OK, back to the movie. Other good things; Paul Giamatti is incapable of being anything other than wonderful, and he is good value. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand have a few nice moments; and that's about it. On the debit side, we have the aforementioned power ballads, which the cast are called upon to sing, we have the bad hair, the musical numbers that go on too long, and the badly-choreographed dance numbers. Throw in the fact that the plot is non-existent, that sexism is reinforced at every opportunity, and that the villain(ess) has all the menace of a sleeping labrador, and you can see why I'm not thrilled by the film.

I also wonder who is expected to want to go and see it. Maybe there's a huge audience of fortysomethings wanting to relive their teenage years, who will sing along in the cinema. Who knows? If I'd been in charge of the film, I'd have cut half an hour of it out, including the whole Mary J Blige thing, and it would a lot sharper and smarter. But maybe smart and sharp is not what they're looking for.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

•    Content supplied by the excellent Front Row Films website – check the site and join up for many more reviews and general all-round film goodness.