Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta and Tom Cruise
Directed by: Adam Shankman
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 2 hours 3 mins
Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
It sounded like a good idea. Take a bunch of popular song from an era long past, add some singers and a couple of actor cameos and, voila, you have…”Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Best known for being the only film in which Carol Channing, Leif Garrett and “Bowzer” from Sha Na all appear, the film was blasted for being nothing more but a bunch of hit songs strung together (though it does have a small place in my heart and in my DVD collection). But like the saying goes, that was then; this is now! Or at least 1987.
Small town girl Sherrie Christian (Hough) arrives in seedy Los Angeles from her small Oklahoma town via bus. After having her suitcase stolen (not to worry, the only thing in it were her albums) she ends up at a popular rock and roll club called the Bourbon. There she meets bar assistant Drew Boley (Boneta), who convinces his boss, Dennis (Alec Baldwin) to give her a job. Sherrie is a singer and she KNOWS that soon she’ll be, as John Lennon used to say, “the toppermost of the poppermost!”
Full of some of the biggest songs of the late 1980s (I hate to use the words “rock and roll” because, and no offense to Kevin Cronan or R.E.O. Speedwagon, but “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” is NOT a rock song!), “Rock of Ages” is almost like one of the old Hollywood musicals where everyone gets together and puts on a show in the barn. In this show, somebody just put a bunch of songs in a show and wrote a story around them. Sherrie Christian only has that name so that everyone on that night bus from Oklahoma can sing Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” while, when Sherrie’s name is mentioned, you get a few bars of Steve Perry’s “Oh, Sherrie!” They did the same thing in “Sgt Peppers” when they named Peter Frampton’s love interest “Strawberry Fields.”
At least the cast has fun. Hough is engaging enough as a girl who must follow her own dreams, no matter the sacrifice. Boneta starts off shaky. His character claims to have stage fright but he has no problem butchering “Juke Box Hero” inside a crowded record store. But it’s the rest of the cast that make me recommend this film. As a Tipper Gore-like mayoral wife, Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones gets to belt out some Pat Benatar while channeling Michael Jackson’s moves from the “Beat It” video. Baldwin is a hoot as is Russell Brand, as his assistant. But the star here is Cruise, who stars as Stacee Jaxx, lead singer of the band Arsenal looking to go solo. And when he announces that he’ll be giving his first performance as a single on the big stage at the Bournon, Jaxx rocks the house. Part “The Jungle Book’s” Kaa, the snake and part Guns and Rose’s Axl Rose, Cruise rocks the house’s socks off! He has the look and moves of a bonafide rock star, as well as a more then passible voice. When Cruise is on screen the film come to life! The songs are catchy (they should be, they’re pretty well known) and Shankman’s direction is brilliant. He did a great job adapting “Hairspray” from Broadway and does the same here. The script is hit or miss, with one of the biggest misses being Sherrie pretty much meets Drew, gets a job, buys new clothes, gets a place to live AND finds the cure for cancer all in one week’s time. Just kidding about the cancer curing.