Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise
Directed by: Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”)
Written by: Chris D’Arienzo (“Barry Munday”), Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”), Allan Loeb (“Just Go With It”)
Isn’t 80s music the best? Sure, the songs can be kinda cheesy, but the catchy melodies, powerful vocals and wailing guitar solos gave birth to not only some of the most popular drunken karaoke songs around, but some truly enduring classics. So, fans of 80s hair metal, imagine all of your favorite songs turned into show stopping song and dance numbers, how awesome would that be? Wait..where are you going? Come back! That’s right, if you’ve ever wanted to hear Twisted Sister’s rebellious anthem “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and Starship’s universally mocked “We Built This City” mashed together for alternating battle cries in a fight between fans of a rock club and an angry mob of moms against rock, you are in for a treat. If you think that sounds absolutely awful, that’s because it is.
The film opens with a “small town girl” named Sherrie (Julianne Hough) stepping off a bus in LA where she hopes to make it as a singer. Shortly after stepping out and singing a few songs, Sherrie gets mugged and has her precious records stolen. There to help her out is a “city boy” (GET IT?!?) Drew (Deigo Boneta) who works at The Bourbon Room, a famous local rock club. After Drew gets Sherrie a job at The Bourbon Room, they browse around a record store, where Drew reveals that he is a singer that desperately wants to be a big star. Of course, he doesn’t just say this, he grabs a random hanging guitar, jumps on top of a shelf and belts out a rendition of Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero” as almost a mini-concert, complete with a spotlight being shined on him and shoppers going nuts. When that settles, Drew reveals to Sherrie that he can’t be the star he wants because he has stage fright. That’s right. The guy who just made love to a Tower Records during business hours crumbles at the prospect of performing in front of a more traditional audience. Enter Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), an over-the-top rock star caricature who is either the most successful cover artist of all time or a rock and roll enigma who is responsible for classic hits like “(Wanted) Dead or Alive” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” To be fair, Cruise gives 100 percent to the sexually-charged and alcohol-fueled role, but that gimmick, combined with overplayed rock-star quirks like Cruise’s ever-present pet monkey, undercuts the character’s impact.
A major part of why “Rock of Ages” fails so completely is that the script is truly bad. Not only is it ridden with clichés and very unimaginative jokes, but nearly every line in the film serves as an uncomfortable, clumsy segue into another song. I actually let out an audible “ugh…” when, while explaining a potential job to Hough, Mary J. Blige tells her that she can have it “ANYWAY YOU WANT IT, THAT’S THE WAY YOU NEED IT.” It’s clear that cast members like Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are having fun with their roles. It’s a shame that they are given such uninspiring material to work with. Another major problem with “Rock of Ages” is that it does a disservice to the music it borrows. Nearly everyone in the cast sounds like they were taken straight from a Broadway stage. Boneta, for example, is by no means a bad singer. But no matter what song he performs in the film, he does not sound anything like a singer from the 80s. In fact, the only member of the cast who captures anything resembling an accurate reproduction of the film’s songs is Cruise.
When thinking about “Rock of Ages,” its difficult to determine who the intended audience for this film is. Most diehard fans of classic rock and hair metal will hate hearing their favorite songs from the 80’s bastardized and turned into Broadway tunes. Perhaps fans of musicals will be charmed, but since it makes use of pre-existing songs of a specific genre, does there need to be some sort of overlap? When the film closes with a big stage production of the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin’,” (SPOILER WARNING) I couldn’t help but laugh to myself when one of the cast members, without a hint of irony, delivers the line “the movie never ends it goes on, and on, and on and on…” Clocking in at just a shade over two hours, I couldn’t agree more. Those looking for a fun, nostalgic trip are better off spending their money on a Foreigner greatest hits album, cranking it up and singing along with their friends.
In the film adaptation of the hit Broadway show “Rock of Ages,” Mexican actor and singer Diego Boneta plays Drew Boley, a busboy in the 80s who dreams of becoming a rock star like his idol Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). During an interview with me, Boneta, 21, talked about the inspiration behind his character and what was so cool about the 80s.
Did you like musicals growing up?
I’ve always been a big fan of musicals. I’m a fan of “Phantom of the Opera.” To this day, that is still my favorite musical of all time. But I also love “The Lion King,” “Billy Elliot,” and “Rock of Ages.” I also can’t wait to see “Book of Mormon.”
Would you imagine you were the Phantom when you were a little kid?
Yes, and it’s still a dream of mine to star in “Phantom of the Opera.” I love “Music of the Night.” That’s one of my favorite songs of all time.
This is a movie about 80s glam rock, but you weren’t even born in the 80s.
People have been asking me, “Dude, you were born in 1990. How do you know all these songs?” But these are the songs my parents would listen to. It’s like people in the 80s who listen to songs from the 60s. They’re timeless songs.
What did you have to do to become an 80s rock star?
I had to go to a six-week rock star college, which consisted of vocal and choreography lessons. I also had to learn how to play guitar. During the vocal lessons I had to learn how to sing with a rocker voice without hurting my vocal chords. I also had to develop a higher vocal range because all these songs are so high and so hard to sing.
How much attitude goes into this kind of musical performance?
It’s about attitude, but it’s mostly about heart. All the tattoos and piercings are just icing on the cake. The core of the rock star comes from the heart.
Tom Cruise really gets the look and attitude down.
He is fearless. He’s a movie star. He’s a rock star. He’s the hardest working guy I’ve ever met. What he brought was hours and hours of preparation and studying and research. He really became Stacee Jaxx.
Will it be more gratifying for you if people like the movie more or the soundtrack more or do they go hand in hand?
They go hand in hand. We tell this story through these songs. The story couldn’t live without them.
Besides the music, what do you think makes the 80s a memorable decade?
People came away with freedom and passion in the 80s. It was all about being yourself and not caring about what other people thought. I think people always want to go back to that because it’s really refreshing.
How do you think the film adaptation will enhance what the Broadway show has already done?
The Broadway version is amazing. It’s very interactive. That’s something really hard to do in a movie. I think [director] Adam Shankman and [co-writer] Justin Therox really gave the film a lot of humor. The premise is the same, but there are changes and new characters.
What real life rock stars inspired your character?
Mick Jagger, Steve Perry, and a little bit of Jim Morrison’s look.
Is starring in a film like this where you saw your career going?
Did I think I was going to be working in my first movie with Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin and Catherine Zeta Jones? Hell no, but it’s a dream come true.