For as long as Rock of Ages was in development, you'd think this adaptation of the exuberant stage musical would be more fun. Something gets lost in translation from the stage to the screen, and the soundtrack feels like two hours of last call at your local bar. If bad karaoke is your thing, then Rock of Ages might just hit the spot. Tom Cruise lets loose as hard living rocker Stacee Jaxx, and Director Adam Shankman recruits Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Alec Baldwin for smaller roles. Sparkly leads Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta sing and dance up a storm, but Rock of Ages never brings down the house.
Sherrie Christian (Hough) comes to Los Angeles in the 1980s and meets bartender Drew Boley (Boneta), who works at the Bourbon Room, a nightclub that hosts rock bands. The club's owner, Dennis Dupree (Baldwin), and his confidant, Lonny Barnett (Brand), struggle to make ends meet, and decide to book Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) despite the rocker's reputation for bad behavior. Dupree also fights with social reformer Patricia Whitmore (Zeta-Jones), who rallies against the sex-crazed antics of Jaxx and other musicians.
Rock of Ages is stuffed ear to ear with popular '80s tunes from the likes of Journey, Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon and Foreigner. Whether or not you think the soundtrack represents the "best of the decade" is a matter of personal opinion. The songs are ubiquitous, catchy and undeniably cliché, and I suspect the performances work a lot better in the live musical. Unlike Shankman's previous musical, Hairspray, Rock of Ages rarely allows its actors to stop lip-synching. Drew and Sherrie's budding relationship is awkwardly jammed between song and after song, and Rock of Ages barely makes it five minutes before breaking out into another musical number.
The film stumbles because the music is not enough to float the thin story. Without the benefit of a live audience and its instant response, the actors are left to smile and wiggle without purpose during generic dance numbers. The soundtrack was not recorded on set, and discrepancies between the recorded vocals and the actors' movements on screen further remove the audience from the film. Rock of Ages simply works better as a stage show. The characters are caricatures, and only Cruise's Jaxx is any fun. Cruise gets to seduce a Rolling Stone reporter (Main Äkerman), and actually seems to enjoy rolling out of bed to nurse a hangover and his inner demons.
Rock of Ages is supposed to be a toe-tapping, hand-clapping spectacle. I have no doubt the stage musical is a lot of fun, but Rock of Ages is kind of a drag. The thin story takes a backseat to the musical performances, which are not particularly inspired. At over two hours, Rock of Ages is overlong and begins to run out of steam around the halfway mark. Hough is sweetly commanding, but Boley is unconvincing as a musician. Rock of Ages is packed with stars, but nothing about the film particularly shines.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is bright and colorful, with lots of detail. Close-ups reveal abundant facial details, and wide shots are deep and clear. Black levels are good, as is delineation, and I noticed no compression artifacts or banding.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is disappointingly front-loaded despite having every opportunity to provide a rocking surround-sound experience. The songs receive little surround support, and only light ambient noise makes its way to the rear speakers. The subwoofer occasionally kicks in, but this mix could have been much more aggressive. Dialogue is always clear and never overwhelmed by the music. French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are also available, as are English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Warner Brothers/New Line Cinema gives Rock of Ages the "combo pack" treatment. The set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy of the film and a code to stream an UltraViolet digital copy. The discs are housed in a flimsy Blu-ray eco-case, which is wrapped in a matching slipcover.
The Blu-ray includes two cuts of the film: the PG-13 theatrical version (2:03:22) and an R-rated extended cut (2:16:14). There's a bit more flesh in the R-rated cut, which restores Sherrie's lap dance for Jaxx set to "Rock You Like a Hurricane." The extras are as follows:
- Rock of Ages: Legends of the Sunset Strip (29:56/HD) - This piece features interviews with 1980s musicians from acts like Foreigner, Poison and Journey. The talent shares memories of the decade, and quite a few of the comments are entertaining.
- The Stories We Sing (12:53/HD) - The same 1980s musicians return here to discuss the songs featured in Rock of Ages and the inspiration behind some of their biggest hits.
- Defining a Decade (35:34/HD) - This nine-part behind-the-scenes piece features interviews and on-set footage, and Hough and Boneta awkwardly guide the audience through the film's production. Sadly, there's no play-all option for these segments.
- "Any Way You Want It" Music Video (2:40/HD) - Mary J. Blige, Constantine Maroulis and Hough re-record the Journey hit for this music video.
- Rock of Ages Musical Numbers - This feature allows you to jump to any of the film's musical performances.
- Visit Florida Tourism Trailer (0:34/HD) - Why is this included?
Tom Cruise has a blast as hard-rocking Stacee Jaxx, a 1980s hair-metal musician, in Rock of Ages, Adam Shankman's adaptation of the popular stage musical. The film lacks a spark that could have made it a lot of fun, and Rock of Ages ends up as an overlong, tiresome reel of bad karaoke performances despite the talents of Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Russell Brand. Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.