Friday, June 15, 2012

Movie with Abe: Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages
Directed by Adam Shankman
Released June 15, 2012

In musicals, there’s always singing and dancing. Sometimes, there’s a bit more too. On Broadway, performers belt out songs and bring down the house with energetic, powerful renditions. In films where the music is pre-recorded and the players are clearly just lip-synching, that element is lost, and the level of excitement depends on the strength of the songs and the supporting plot. “Rock of Ages,” based on a long-running musical that weaves together popular hits from the 1980s, is short on story and heavy on substituting songs for plot developments. As a result, it’s an inconsistent, jumbled saga with a whole lot of great music.

Simply put, “Rock of Ages” tells the most familiar music-related story ever told. Its central characters are classic naïve youngsters with a boatload of talent starting out as bar employees in the city’s hottest club. Their romance is uncomplicated and immediate, and it’s not until well into the film that any real drama begins, and it’s a predictable yarn of fame and glory versus true love. Julianne Hough, whose background is “Dancing with the Stars,” and TV guest star Diego Boneta, of “Pretty Little Liars” and “90210,” are likely to build their movie careers around these breakout roles, which makes much better use of their singing talents than their acting abilities.

This heavy fictionalized film isn’t meant to be taken seriously. Its presentation of most of the songs comes from choice dialogue meant to segue into a musical number in the least subtle fashion. That’s most evident when two non-singers get the chance to break into song, comically opening their mouths and bopping their heads along to the beat: Paul Giamatti’s egomaniacal manager and Alec Baldwin’s long-haired club owner Dennis Dupree. Comedian Russell Brand is also on tap as Dupree’s right-hand man, and Tom Cruise takes center stage in his most ridiculous role since “Tropic Thunder” as rock icon Stacee Jaxx, who boasts, among other things, a pet monkey named Hey-Man.

There is some talent to be found in the cast, and certain performers are used better than others. Mary J. Blige gets a musical showcase as a strip club owner in a plotline that seems uncomfortably inserted into the overarching story, while Catherine Zeta-Jones’ crusading mayoral candidate’s wife has a reasonable purpose in the story but her musical numbers are excessive and forced. Bumps aside, “Rock of Ages” is an entertaining spectacle, and if not too much thought or expectations are put into the viewing experience, it’s plenty fun and generally harmless.


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