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Cock-Rock Without The Rock: Adam Shankman’s Rock Of Ages (2012) on DVD

October 4, 2012 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 0 Comments

Disclaimer: the world ‘without’ appears a lot in this review.  As in, your life would be better off without seeing Rock Of Ages.

Rock Of Ages
(Adam Shankman, 2012)

A small town girl leaves home for the big city, hoping to make it in the music business.  Initially, she’s thwarted in her efforts but manages to get a job at a disreputable local bar where she gets wise to the world, bags a hot fella and, eventually, succeeds.  This is the plot of Coyote Ugly and Burlesque, two of the finest guilty pleasures produced in the 21st century.  Unfortunately, it’s also the plot of Rock Of Ages, which is an insufferable pile of cock-rock.  Without the rock.

The problem, fundamentally, is that trash transcends its origins only when it’s content to be trash.  As soon as it gets delusions of grandeur, the project is fucked.  In Rock Of Ages, an irredeemably lazy jukebox musical piggybacks on the success of Mamma Mia! and the cultural phenomenon of Glee to become a hot property.  It’s a chance for A-listers to “rock out” and show how “with it” they are.  And, of course, as soon as you add quotes to words you’re in the realm of This Is Spinal Tap.  Without the laughs.

Rock Of Ages would dearly like to believe in a golden age of poodle-permed, leather-chapped, hedonistic rock music.  In its clumsy attempts at remembering this authenticity, it has the hero waylaid into a career of lip-synching, beat-boxing boy band mediocrity.  Which would be great, if the music to which those aural horrors were being compared was indeed the sleazy, Satanic, noise pollution that the characters think it is.  Instead, this film’s idea of a rock anthem is Don’t Stop Believing.  Or I Want To Know What Love Is.  Or We Built This City.  Ersatz MOR horrors, all.

Faced with that fundamental misconception, it’s a satire without any wit.  Director Adam Shankman reimagines all of the lust and louche abandon of music’s wild past as an airbrushed fantasia of big hair and neon.  The closest the Bourbon bar comes to the spit-and-sawdust of rock is the sight of Russell Brand slumped against a toilet seat… but the knowledge of what Brand used to get up to in toilets in real life is a reminder of how saccharine the film is.  The likes of Paul Giamatti hit a new low in a film that’s a new test case for what I call the Kevin Spacey Theory, namely that when great supporting actors become stars, they will eventually end up as rubbish supporting actors.

Meanwhile Tom Cruise, perhaps buoyed by a screenplay co-written by Tropic Thunder’s Justin Theroux, decides to do Len Grossman again – in the process turning a daring, radical casting-against-type into another part of the actor’s routine.  Cruise is actually the most watchable person in the film, but his presence severely distorts the storyline.  Stacee Jaxx needs to be an elusive, Gatsby-esque figure, viewed only through the prism of the young, naive protagonists – but the film stops dead in a lengthy interlude where Malin Akerman’s journalist (a character we’ve only just met) interviews, and is seduced by, Jaxx.  This would only have traction if Jaxx was an actual, real-life rock god.  As it is, the casting of Cruise leaves the film looking like it’s fallen for its own hype and is treating Jaxx as if he was an actual, real-life rock god.

It’s also – and this is the film’s truly unforgiveable crime – a truly terrible screen musical.  Like Mamma Mia!, it is deemed cinematically acceptable for established actors to warble along to a backing track, without really making much effort to move like they’re singing.  The only genuine dancer in the cast, Julianne Hough, only gets a chaste, cut-to-ribbons pole-dancing routine to showcase the imagination and technique of her choreography on Dancing With The Stars, while the closest thing to an old-school group dance involves Catherine Zeta-Jones and her Christian zealot backing dancers making weird shapes with their hands.  I can think of a few weird shapes I can make with my hands to express my feelings for the film, and they’d be better choreographed.

Rock Of Ages is out on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday.  Coyote Ugly and Burlesque are available now.

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