There was perhaps not much to expect from Rock of Ages, the latest movie musical to join in the Hollywood singalong. Without the kitsch absurdity of Mamma Mia and the unabashed raunch of Chicago, it could have easily ended up as little more than an 80s medley sung to an indifferent degree by people you recognised either a lot or not at all. It is a pleasant surprise, then, to find that this is not quite the case. With Mr Hairspray Andy Shankman at the helm, Rock of Ages is for the most part a silly and enjoyable romp through that most hirsute of musical decades.
The story is simple. Small town girl Sherrie (Hough) shows up on the Sunset Strip with dreams of a song in her heart and 17 bucks to her name. After a dastardly incident of suitcase-snatching, she is taken in by Drew (Boneta), who gets her a job alongside him at the legendary Bourbon Room. He, too, harbours hopes for a career in rock, and pretty soon the two of them are belting out Nothin' But a Good Time in perfect harmony. But it is something but a good time for rock and roll. The Bourbon Room's up the financial spout – and in a bid to save his beloved bar, owner Dennis Dupree (Baldwin) has booked legendary rocker Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) to play his last gig before going solo.
Meantime, the puritanical mayor's wife (Zeta-Jones) is on the warpath to have them closed. With Jaxx's money-grabbing manager (Giamatti) in the wings, and Jaxx's superhuman pussy-pulling power shooting off left, right and centre, it's anything but an easy ride. Will Stacee ever find true love? Will Sherrie have to swap singing for stripping? Is Drew really going to go onstage dressed like that? We just don't know. Well, we do, of course – it's completely predictable. But as everyone knows, it's not about where you're going, it's about the Journey. Which, incidentally, is where we end up – with a rousing chorus of Don't Stop Believin'
The "elder" cast members are all superb. Zeta-Jones smoulders, Baldwin does that deadpan thing he does so well, and Giamatti sleazes and slimes. The only trouble is how much they're used. Cranston as Mayor Whitmore is criminally underused; and while Cruise is excellent as Jaxx, he's just in it too much. What begins as an obscene parody of the rocker lost in his own myth becomes a full-length plotline with an attempt at character development. He would have been best as a cameo; he kind of hogs the spotlight. The young protagonists look too fresh and spry for rock, unless it's a special kind of sanitised Glee-style rock. Their voices aren't bad, but they're bland; their little faces are vapid and annoying. It's a tough gig, though. Theirs is a story so pat, so predictable, and their characters so 2D, that it's difficult to see where they could have gone with it.
There's much fun had with accessories and attire from the times. Giamatti's giant-sized mobile phone never gets old, and Drew's get-up for his stint with the pop band Z Guyeezz is priceless. Despite an accent that couldn't decide if it was pantomime Brummie or his more usual cheeky cockney, Brand sparkles – and proves he ain't got a bad set of pipes on him, either. As doe-eyed dopey Lonny Barnett, Dupree's faithful sidekick (and more…) he's unusually adorable. Their lovestruck duet – I Can't Fight This Feeling – is reason enough to see this movie.
Overall, it's a decent enough movie spin on a reasonably successful stage musical. There are high points, funny points, and great performances – but by the end it felt bloated, stuffed with too many songs and too much needless plot. Judging by the synopsis of the stage show, they've made quite a few cuts, and made it a more innocent kind of fun (Jaxx's stage incarnation seems to wind up being charged with statutory rape). But even so, this movie could have done with more trimming of split ends and some thinning of plot layers. And how the hell did Final Countdown not make the final cut?!