In 1987, Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) is a small town girl who is leaving her origins behind, travelling on the bus with nothing but her collection of soft rock records, hoping to make it big as a singer in Los Angeles, where dreams come true. Unfortunately practically the minute she steps off the bus someone walks up to her and steals her records, leaving a knight in shining armour to come to her aid. He can't get the discs back, but he can offer her a job in the bar he works in, the renowned Bourbon Club; he is Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), and he has aspirations as a singer too...
Rock of Ages was one of the highest profile flops of 2012, trying to tap into the Mamma Mia! and Glee markets for hearing stars singing songs from the past, but failing to find much of an audience in spite of the novelty value of Tom Cruise squealing eighties hair metal. But not the hard stuff, so you would not be listening to the Cruiser roaring Slayer or Metallica hits, no matter that this would have been a far more entertaining proposition, if only because it would be absolutely nuts. As it was, the preponderance of rock ballads set to montages outweighed the storming numbers of yesteryear, suggesting the production didn't have faith in the blokes showing up to see it, and were aiming it at the ladies' karaoke set.
Except the crowd who would have liked hearing these tracks again - in theory - were represented not so much by Hough's shrill-voiced songbird but by Catherine Zeta-Jones, who played the role of a moral majority protestor. She was the age the fans of the originals would be at the point this was released, but representing a miserably censorious, anti-fun personality wasn't the best way to go, though even then there was confusion as she got her own dance routine with raunchy moves, which from what we were meant to be learning about her was way out of character. But with a film that thought we wanted to hear Paul Giamatti trilling, what did you expect but a few missteps?
Only you might not expect quite such an abundance of missteps, leaving this the antithesis of the rock 'n' roll mindset that it was supposedly espousing, a blandly corporate sound when something more authentic and rousing was utterly out of their grasp. When even Extreme's More Than Words comes across as watered down, you knew you were watching a movie in trouble before the inevitable, dreaded Don't Stop Believing cover even arrived, and the plot may have worked for a stage musical where it's simply an excuse to link the vocal performances, but it was the slimmest of narratives for the big screen. If Sherrie and Drew's on and off romance was the weak backbone, you'd be hard pressed to give a toss about them when any idiosyncrasy that might have made them convincing had been ruthlessly ironed out.
One becomes a stripper, while another gets a job in a boyband, and the latter is shown to be far more humiliating, but there were other characters as the Bourbon owner was a long-haired Alec Baldwin whose righthand man was Russell Brand with a bizarre Brummie accent. They gave Cruise's creepily spaced out superstar Stacee Jaxx (not Tracy Jacks, that was a Blur song) his big break way back when but find they need him more than he needs them as his unscrupulous manager (Giamatti) hires the club for the night. Then Malin Akerman's Rolling Stone reporter shows up for an interview with Stacee and ends up shagging him, though this is not edgy enough to depict anything like that, playing it strictly safe. Yet in its way, this smug refusal to engage with the medium it purports to celebrate can get you fired up in itself: filled with righteous anger at what feebly passes for mainstream Hollywood's idea of rock. With the only passably amusing moment a ballad between Baldwin and Brand, never will you be so relieved that grunge was just around the corner.
[Warner's DVD has a making of featurette, footage of Def Leppard at the premiere, a music video and a trailer.]