Even though I was only 13 when the 1980s ended, I think that it is definitely the greatest decade for television, movies, and music. It seems like there are plenty of others who share that opinion, since there’s recently been a lot of 80s nostalgia. But people trying to cash in on that nostalgia have to be careful to get it right, because almost doesn’t cut it. And Rock of Ages doesn’t even achieve almost.
Even in the 1980s, Los Angeles was full of people who have come to seek their fortune in the entertainment industry, so when Sherrie (Julianne Hough) stepped off the bus from Oklahoma, she was hardly the first country girl to think she could make it in the big city. Her excitement was dampened a little when she got mugged and the thieves ran off with her record collection, but it recovered somewhat when she landed a job as a waitress at The Bourbon Room, a popular nightclub that always seems to book the biggest names in music. One of the most famous performers, Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) got his start as lead singer for Arsenal on that stage, and that’s where their last concert will be before he embarks on a solo career.
There are other aspiring musicians working at The Bourbon Room, and Sherrie is immediately drawn to Drew (Diego Boneta), who has a great voice but also suffers from stage fright. But when Arsenal’s opening act cancels at the last minute, Sherrie suggests Drew as a replacement, and he impresses club owner Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and his assistant Lonny (Russell Brand) enough for them to give him a shot. His performance also impressed Paul (Paul Giamatti), who manages Stacee Jaxx and is always looking for more talent, especially as Stacee continues to throw his life away with alcohol, women, and an intolerable personality. Of course if the mayor’s ultraconservative wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta Jones) has her way, then all of these filthy clubs will be shut down and the musicians will all be out of work.
Rock of Ages the movie is based on the musical of the same name and boasts a soundtrack featuring over twenty of the most well-known 80s rock anthems. Unfortunately, those songs are performed by the cast rather than the original artists, which means they’re autotuned, lip-synced, mashed up, given alternate lyrics, and otherwise destroyed. Occasionally, we only hear a couple of lines from a song, but in this case that’s more an act of mercy than one of heresy. I expected the music to be the only thing the film would have going for it, and while it’s true there wasn’t anything else of value in the movie, even the music was a letdown.
There are a lot of big names in the film, but they certainly don’t add anything to its quality, and I’m not sure I see the logic in casting a couple of relative unknowns as the lead characters, particularly when neither was alive at the time the events of the film were supposed to have taken place. The performances were universally bad (although sometimes intentionally so), and the decision to pair Tom Cruise with a costumed monkey named “Hey Man” probably would have been embarrassingly awful if the film hadn’t already been awful.
All of this comes together to result in a movie that is two hours of agony. The music is bad, but everything else is worse. Walking out of the theater, I felt like I might need a course of antibiotics to ward off any of the film’s nastiness that might have attached itself to me.