Rock of Ages – Adam Shankman
They made this bullsh*t out of mock n’ roll. While Choreographer and dancer Adam Shankman’s Hairspray had a certain scabrous charm, this screen treatment of another award-winning musical is utterly charmless. It plays like an FHM adolescent wet dream fantasy in its moronic exploration of its 56 years-old, vestigial storyline.
Rock Around The Clock (1956) revisited: rock n’ roll is the music of the devil; evil and irreligious in its blatant sexuality and rebellion. This was a transparently exploitative narrative thread even in 1956: but at least in its iconoclastic explosion into the ethical and social conformity of the time – it played. It made sense. Setting this farrago of sub-Queen, pastiched efforts at very loud, very repetitive anthemic ‘rock’ (as soon as they dropped the ‘n’ roll’ the music disappeared up its own pretentious ar*e) in the mid-1980’s is as musically doomed as it is dramatically tedious.
It is true though that Rock of Ages is at times so bad that it generates a kind of macabre, masochistic sense of fun. The genius that is Russell Brand stands out: never in the history of fatuously ill-deserved celebrity has so little talent (none) earned so much for being so cosmically bad. To understate the case. Saddled mysteriously with a Brummie accent that finally knocks Dick Van Dyke’s mockney off its previously unassailable perch, Brand is precisely the kind of Brit Americans love to laugh at – a parody of a stereotype of a witless fiction. Yet perversely Brand offers the best laughs in a relentlessy crass and crude movie: spontaneous laughter broke out around us at the sheer ineptitude of Brand’s playing alongside the best performance in the movie by an insouciant Alec Baldwin who bobs blithely and fragrantly through this farce like a plastic bottle in a septic tank.
All the women in Rock of Ages are either dressed for next week’s Lads Mag features or stupid: or frequently both. Okie country girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough or as they say ‘Huff’) turns up in LA wanting to sing, is robbed, then befriended by Wimpy Drew (Diega Boneta) who works bar at Sunset Strip rave palace Bourbon run by Dennis Dupree (Baldwin) and Lonny (Brand) whose incipiently gay relationship is about as convincing as Gordon Brown’s performance at the Leveson enquiry.
Dimpy Drew (dim+wimpy) gets Sherrie a job at the Bourbon in return for which she eradicates his stage fright by telling him to take deep breaths. Donny and Lenny – sorry Denny and Lonny, I nodded off there for a moment, are virtually bankrupt and need a big payday: to be supplied by a final live performance at the Bourbon by lead singer, rock God and moronic mystic Stacee Jaxx (Cruise on Cruise-control) about to break away from legendary band Arsenal (no I’m not kidding). A kind of Robert Plantain rock leg-end, Jaxx is in the final stages of me-galomania causing all kinds of problems for his weaselly manager Paul – a shamefully wasted, pigtailed Paul Giamatti.
Dramatic counterpoint to this dubious bunch of rock-evangelists is provided by Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta Jones) wife of the incumbent mayor and vindictive, discarded Jaxx groupie-lay of 17 years before. Pattie is selling hubbie Mike on a clean-up-the-Strip ticket while he humps his secretary after a bit of light flagellation.
Wasted musically on the same scale as Giamatti is dramatically, Mary J Blige runs a pole-dancing club for no reason other than it provides an excuse for her to wear some knock-out frocks surrounded by loads more salacious FHM-ery. Innocent little Sherrie trifles with this ugly triumph of promise over delivery until Dimpy Drew recues her from a fate worse than dearth in the talent department.
That’s about it: characters, plot and a cast-performed musical pastiche of original 80’s songs, fit together with all the complexity and dramatic uncertainty of Duplo – the Lego-bricks-for-little-kids.
I have said little about Mr Cruise: as his performance pretty much defies description or criticism. If I say he plays to perfection a moronic, megalomaniacal halfwit with a mind-numbing machismo – he can smile sweetly and say “thanks for the compliment – that’s what I’m meant to be: that’s the joke.” Trouble is, one gets an overwhelming feeling that Tommy-boy is enjoying the fantasy much more than the mockery. And it ain’t funny. But all the lady Cruise fans out there, of which I am told there are many, though I have yet to meet any woman of my acquaintance who belongs to this hidden legion, will no doubt tell me how hilarious this grotesque performance is.
Now to stump you dear reader. I’m perversely glad I went. Some of the dance scenes are wonderfully staged with real verve even if at times displaying a tacky, ugly eroticism. The musical drive is relentless, if finally repetitively self-defeating. If Dimpy Drew Diego and Huff’s Britney-esque Sherrie really aren’t up to the quality of the musicianship around them it all rolls together in an utterly predictable but sort of pleasing way. And my instinct for schadenfreude now starved from the ending of The Apprentice was nicely refreshed by the fun of watching Cruise’s thoroughly professional portrayal of a farcically idiotic character; and even more deliciously, Brand’s totally amateurish achievement of the same outcome.
If you want to see this stuff done brilliantly and for real; with superb singing, great performances and endlessly engaging characters and story-line – then catch up with Sky Atlantic’s Saturday night show Smash.
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