Just a small-town girl named after a Steve Perry song, Sherrie Christian boards a bus in Oklahoma that’s bound for Los Angeles. She’s taking flight to the mecca of show business on Greyhound wings. As Sherrie is motoring to what she hopes will be a singing career, she sits amidst a busload of life’s fellow passengers, all of whom know the words to the 1984 Night Ranger hit, “Sister Christian.”
There’s brief spoken dialogue in the film adaptation of the Broadway hit musical, Rock of Ages, but mostly the characters sing hard-rock and power-pop medleys and mash-ups culled from Journey, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, Foreigner, Poison, Starship, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Bon Jovi and other stars of the ’80s.
Rock of Ages closely parallels the 2010 Christina Aguilera- and Cher-starring movie musical, Burlesque, not to mention so many more similar tales. Fortunately, Rock of Ages takes itself much less seriously than Burlesque, a fatally clichéd box office bomb. Most of all, Rock of Ages finds its rock ’n’ roll salvation in humor and a great cast.
The film hangs its plot from two aspiring young singers played by Burlesque co-star Julianne Hough and movie newcomer Diego Boneta. Embody every cliché in the book though this soulless romantic pair does, Hough and Boneta serve a higher purpose in Rock of Ages. They’re straight man and woman for the movie’s crazy rock characters.
Hough, a singer, dancer and actress, previously appeared on TV’s Dancing with the Stars and in the movie musical, Footloose. She has a successful country music career, too. Like all of the principal characters in Rock of Ages, Hough and Boneta’s Sherrie and Drew constantly burst into song. Both of them do their classic rock assignments well, especially the formally trained Hough. And neo-soul star Mary J. Blige, co-starring as Justice, nails her Rock of Ages notes even though the music’s not really her style.
Effectively stealing this rock show, Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin play stereotypical classic-rock characters who are struggling to keep their legendary Sunset Strip music club, The Bourbon Room, from closing.
The role of Lonny, a decadent, big-haired British rocker, doesn’t seem a stretch for Brand. Lonny’s lines may not be all that funny in print, but once Brand spouts them through that gonzo face and voice of his, they become funny.
Baldwin, continuing the post-romantic leading man success he’s had as a character actor, co-stars as Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree. As the puffy-eyed, stringy-haired, perpetually unshaven Dennis, Baldwin again shows that he’s the master of deadpan.
Rock of Ages also features Paul Giamatti as the film’s official villain, an untrustworthy rock manager; Catherine Zeta-Jones as a crusading, rock-hating politician’s wife; and, the crème de la crème in an already extraordinary cast, Tom Cruise as rock idol Stacee Jaxx.
Created in the leather-clad rock image of Axl Rose and Bret Michaels, Jaxx has some Michael Jackson madness in him, too. Cruise whispers the burned-out star’s short, cryptic lines. Jaxx’s entourage includes a pack of groupies and a loyal animal sidekick native to East Africa. Cruise rarely does comedy but, as his maniacally funny turn as movie mogul Les Grossman in 2008’s Tropic Thunder revealed, he’s got a knack for it.
Beyond its rock-musical pedigree, Rock of Ages works as a comedy. After all, the story is old and the songs have been played into the ground for years.
The film in large part is no more than Glee on a movie screen, but its cast and comedy make it more fun than it may deserve to be.