Blu-Ray Review: Rock of Ages

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Say what you will about Tom Cruise’s personal life, but the man is a movie star.  Even when appearing in something as mind-numbingly generic as Rock of Ages, the cinematic adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, he exudes a power over the material that you can’t look away from.  As uber-rock star Stacee Jaxx, Cruise commits to the performance in such a way that every other aspect of the film pales in comparison.  It’s a brilliant portrayal of a man unknowingly lost within his own fame, desperate for release.

I would have loved to see an entire film about this character.  Unfortunately, that is not the movie that we are given.  Rather, his character serves as the lynchpin upon which the far less interesting characters revolve.  If you’ve never seen a film about “a small town girl” forced to become a stripper after her dreams fall apart, then you’re in for a treat.  Or how about the over-the-top story of conservative extremists determined to bring down the sin that is rock and roll?  Yeah, this is that type of movie.

I really wanted to like this movie.  I love the 80’s, and this is a musical filled with some of the greatest rock of the decade.  Unfortunately, the songs come across as little more than celebrity karaoke.  In terms of singing, nobody is laughably bad (Alec Baldwin fares the worst), but nobody really stands out either.  My biggest concern going into this film would be that the songs would be on par with Glee.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I got, “mashups” and all.

At least the films is visually appealing.  The production designers did a great job recreating the 80’s, from the fictional “Bourbon Room” that serves as a centerpiece for the film, to the streets of Los Angeles, and up to the Hollywood sign.  It’s highly stylized, never feeling like the real world, and that is perfect for a film like this.

I really don’t know how they got Cruise to appear in this film, saving it from complete mediocrity, but it’s a good thing they did.  Catherine Zeta Jones is wasted as the head of the conservative anti-rock group, Bryan Cranston pointlessly plays her cheating husband, Alec Baldwin and Russel Brand run the Bourbon Room, Paul Giammati is Jaxx’s agent, and on and on.  It’s a mostly great cast, and I don’t know what they’re doing in a film like this.  The only awful performers are the two leads, Julianne Hough and Diego Beoneta.  Watching these bland kids interact with the rest of the real stars shows just how wrong they were in focusing the film on these two characters.

It’s hard not to feel bad for these highly respected performers, forced to appear with these intentionally cheesy wigs and costuming.  The only other actor besides Cruise who really seems to “get” what this film could have been is Malin Akerman.  As the Rolling Stone reporter caught in a fling with Jaxx, she holds her own.  Like Cruise, she has created a uniquely fascinating character.  As she evolves from bookish reporter to sexpot rock junkee, I wished the rest of the cast could have brought the same manic energy to the film.

At least the Blu-Ray is a strong representation of the film.  The picture looks amazing, capturing every detail that the production designers put together.  This is a highly visual experience, and the picture is gorgeous.  There are several features as well that are fascinating in their own right, independent of the film.  Bret Michaels hosts a couple of features that really delve into the history of 80’s rock and roll.  Featuring tons of interviews with some of the decade’s greatest performers, the features on this set are perfect for 80’s rock junkees.  They reminisce, they provide insight into specific songs, and they just revel in the nostalgia of the decade.  There is also an eight part look at the making of the film itself, with insight into the production design, costuming, etc.  It’s an interesting group of features, poorly hosted by Hough and Boneta.  There’s also a music featurette, an option to jump to your favorite songs, etc.  There is also the option to watch an extended, R-Rated cut featuring a “sexy” scene between Hough and Cruise and some other filler.

While the film had a lot of potential, the script just didn’t come together.  With story arcs that are dropped without reason, cliche character beats that serve no function other than to get to the next song, and characters with no personality at all, this is a tragically missed opportunity.  If there is any justice, we will someday get a spinoff featuring Cruise and Akerman in a film populated with far more interesting people.  Until that time, we’ll have to make do with this frustratingly mediocre attempt at something more.

Rock of Ages is available now Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and for download!