'Rock of Ages': A great gig for character actors
Movie review: In "Rock of Ages," supporting actors Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti and Catherine Zeta-Jones steal the show from leads Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta.
Seattle Times movie critic
'Rock of Ages,' with Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise. Directed by Adam Shankman, from a screenplay by Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo, and Allan Loeb, based on the musical by D'Arienzo. 123 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking and language. Several theaters.
Let me state my bias right up front here: I cannot possibly dislike a movie in which Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, equipped with abundant '80s tresses, sing "I Love Rock & Roll" into a hairbrush. (For the record, I didn't know I had this bias until last night.) Later, they croon REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling" to each other, and you wish these two had their own movie, or at least their own late-night talk show.
Directed by Adam Shankman, who made "Hairspray" one of 2007's happiest movie experiences, "Rock of Ages" (still going strong on Broadway) is the latest in a string of stage-to screen musicals. Though often enjoyably silly, it doesn't really work as a movie; it's more a collection of cover songs and hair-flinging, connected by the thinnest of plots. Innocent Sherrie (Julianne Hough) has newly arrived in 1987 Los Angeles on the bus from Tulsa, with gel in her hair and stars in her eyes. She quickly meets up with another young dreamer, Drew (sweet-faced Diego Boneta), and they fall in love, etc., etc., and meanwhile Tom Cruise wanders around wearing some sort of dragon head on his crotch. This is, in case you're wondering, one of those movies where the supporting cast completely steals the focus from the stars.
Cute as Hough and Boneta are, they melt away like ice on an L.A. sidewalk whenever any of their elders turn up. Baldwin and Brand, playing L.A. music club owner Dennis Dupree and his tech guy Lonny, have an effortlessly funny chemistry. Cruise, as rock god Stacee Jaxx, struts through the movie with his chest so puffed out he's practically an apostrophe, speaking as if from a cloud of fog. Paul Giamatti, in sleazy ponytail and earrings, is his gum-chomping manager Paul Gill. (Dennis is surprised when Stacee shows up slightly early for a gig at the club; Gill, scoffing, replies, "I told him the gig was last night, so technically he's a day late.") Catherine Zeta-Jones munches the scenery like Skittles as a politician's wife determined to close down the wicked club district. Malin Akerman looks like an '80s Michelle Pfeiffer (no small praise) as a Rolling Stone reporter who gets up close and personal with Stacee, and Mary J. Blige sports some wickedly gilt-y fashion as a strip-club owner.
Everyone gets to croon an '80s song or two, or three or four, and the two-hour movie starts to feel overlong after a while; the songs have a sameness to them (how many covers of "Don't Stop Believing" can you hear in a lifetime?), and the movie never really goes anywhere. But "Rock of Ages" nonetheless falls neatly into the guilty-pleasure category — everyone involved is clearly having a ball, and you might just get caught up in it, hair and all.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org