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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Rock of Ages


ROCK OF AGES  (One and a Half Stars)

U. S.: Adam Shankman, 2012 

Rock of Ages is a rock movie for people who still have their old Foreigner and REO Speedwagon album collections intact, but can’t really feel the beat. Based on a long-running off-Broadway transplant from Hollywood, it’s a show that takes the backstage boy-star meets girl-star plot of the usual ‘30s Hollywood Warner Brothers musical (from 42nd Street to Footlight Parade) , resets it on the Sunset Strip in its 1987 glory days, borrows a score from a lot of ‘80s-or-so rock standard stuff by Foreigner, Journey, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, REO Speedwagon and a number of other bands not on my personal playlist, and has them played and sung by the likes of Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, and other major Hollywood stars, impersonating rock people — and in most cases, impersonating singers.

The movie, directed by Adam Shankman (who made the 2007 Hairspray remake) has as its leads, two actual singers: blonde cutie-pie ingénue Julianne Hough and boy singer Diego Bonata, as Sherrie Christian and Drew Boley, two prospective rockers who work on the Strip as waitpeople at the Bourbon Room (read Whiskey-a-Go-Go) and who are filling the old 42nd Street Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell parts. (Ruby and Dick might have done it better, or at least more memorably.) They‘re the singing-dancing sweetie-pies who both go out youngsters “but have to come back stars.” (Not singing “Don’t Stop Believing” you don’t.)

The other stock types from Chris D’Arienzo’s stage book, and the script by D’Arienzo, Justin Theroux and Allan Loeb, include Stacee Jaxx, the troubled tatooed superstar (Cruise), Dennis Dupree the harassed club owner (Baldwin), Lonny the Bourbon emcee (Brand), Paul Gill the sleazy rockstar manager (Paul Giamatti), Patricia Whitmore the bluenose mayor’s wife who’s trying to shut down the Strip (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Malin Akerman as Constance Sack the wise-ass lady reporter (from Rolling Stone). Zeta-Jones and Mary J. Blige (as Justice Charlier, bombshell dancer) have the only good numbers.

Does this sound like something you want to see? Well, knock yourselves out — but I think there’s something fatally wrong with the whole strategy here. Great movie musicals are built around great exhilarating numbers sung or danced by great singers and/or dancers. And good movies musicals are built on good numbers, etc., etc. Here is a musical with a lot of mediocre, if famous, numbers, sung by famous performers who are mostly professional actors (and likable ones), but non-professional musical performers, apparently having a lark. It’s like Celebrity Karaoke, with the stars lip-synching themselves — when, in most cases, you‘d rather they were lip-synching the original bands. Why watch it, or listen to it? Yeah, I know, Mamma Mia sort of clicked, but those are mostly better, more tuneful songs, and Meryl Streep is a better actor. Better singer too.


In the entire movie, there was only one acting performance I enjoyed (Giamatti), only one moment of design I liked (the recreation of the old, now vanished red-and-yellow Sunset Boulevard Tower Records store, where I spent a lot of time and bought a lot of records and tapes, maybe a few from Axl Rose), and exactly one number that gave me real pleasure: Zeta-Jones as the anti-rock L. A. Mayor‘s wife, singing and gyrating to Pat Benatar’s salty “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” But we already know Zeta-Jones can sing and dance because she stole a lot of the show in the Oscar-winning Kander-Ebb movie musical Chicago.

Beyond that brief, saucy, hip-shaking hit, there isn’t a song I remember happily, nor a musical phrase I want to hear again — which makes sense because I wasn’t wild about Twisted Sister or Journey or Def Leppard when they were in their prime. And frankly I’d rather hear these groups in their prime, of even out of their prime, than hear their songs sung by most of these guys.

Memo to Hollywood: Remember Lina Lamont. There are plenty of great movie musicals yet to be made, but when you make ’em, it’s better to hire the best possible musicians. Hire dancers. Hire singers — and an occasional snazzy talker like Rex Harrison or Robert Preston. Not that those two could have scored with Journey or Twisted Sister either.

By the way, why use a dumb name like Stacee Jaxx for your superstar, when “Stacey Jacks” looks so much cooler (and “Stacee Jaxx” reads more like a bad band that couldn’t make it to the Whiskey)? Oh, I get it: Satire. Cool.


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4 Responses to “Wilmington on Movies: Rock of Ages”

  1. luna says:

    Not that I was wild to see this movie. I wasn’t as I’m not a Tom Cruise or a Russel Brand fan at all. But this review reinforces the decision to skip this one.

  2. princess says:

    I just saw Rock of its not going to b a blockbuster! But it did have great music n a lot of talent.if u r not a tom cruise fan,then rent it to at least c how much talent he really has.he is a rock star! Two things I didn’t like1.the two leads julianne hough (yes she’s cute,blonde n skinny,and can dance) but girl u can’t lipsynce! Acting..not much off a stretch! It look like she did footloose then decided to go to hollywood!she only got hired cuz shes a cute white blonde! As for diego bonata,the male lead(yes he’s cute n nice body too)but he can’t lypsynce either! What’s up?! All those actors out there n u directors can’t find two cute ones THAT CAN act! …2nd..I thought it wasn’t cool to c two guys singing a love songs ..I don’t want to c a gay movie! Say what u want about me but yes I think that’s gross! Have a good day 😉

  3. lois says:

    I really reaaaaaally want to believe that “princess”‘s message is some kind of amazing satire on…ummmm…america?

  4. Walter says:

    “..I don’t want to c a gay movie! Say what u want about me but yes I think that’s gross!”

    And I think YOU are gross!


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So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon