Sherrie (Hough) and Drew (Boneta) both have their hearts set on rock fame, while Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) is tiring of his. All will rewrite their destiny in a dive bar under threat of bankruptcy and persecution from the ultra-conservative wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) of the new mayor.
Rock Of Ages is not a musical in the artistic sense, where songs are specifically written to convey what the character is feeling, what they want or the fact that they’ve just arrived in a big city with an awful lot of dreams. It’s a mixtape musical, in which all the songs are old, popular hair-rock numbers, chosen because they have a title that fits a broad emotion, even if the lyrics are basically meaningless. Essentially, any story here is just filling time until they can have someone say “We built this city on rock and roll”, “I wanna rock” or “I want to know what love is” and then sing the rest of the song as we all shuffle along in recognition. It’s utterly ridiculous, a tequila shot of a movie: cheap and thin but able to addle your senses until you’re in no position to judge anything.
In a way that’s either very smart or very lazy, the plot follows the same shallow arc as your typical rock anthem. A girl (Hough, adorable) arrives in 1980s Hollywood with double denim on her back and a few quarters in her purse; a boy (Boneta, endearing) works a bar; both dream of love and fame. Inevitably, strippers, motorbikes, whisky and The Man all figure before the big finish. Bon Jovi spent years writing plots like this and resolving them in four minutes.
It would be very easy for this movie star karaoke session to fall apart after the first couple of hits, so little is there to hold it together. And there are certainly times when it could have used judicious cutting – it’s a good 25-minutes too long and several roles are pointless, like Mary J. Blige playing a woman whose sole characteristic is belting it out quite loudly when needed. But Adam Shankman has immense skill in elevating tackiness. In Hairspray he snuck the segregation story in quietly under the jaunty pop, and here he draws wit from songs written with none.
He’s helped by a cast who commit absolutely, either incapable of embarrassment or unaware they should be. Tom Cruise (who belts commendably and highlights his gameness by entering the movie bedazzled crotch first) and Malin Akerman doing the magnificently maudlin 'I Wanna Know What Love Is' as a ballad to one night stands is a highlight. As is Catherine Zeta-Jones stomping her way through 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot'. The true barometer of whether you’ll get any joy from this is whether or not you enjoy the idea of Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand singing 'Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore' at each other while twirling. If not, this is not your party.
Like every one of its songs, it makes a lot of noise about nothing much and cockily straddles awfulness and greatness. Its enormously entertaining nonsense.