When a director finds his calling it can be a wonderful thing. With a past resume that reads like every critic’s Top 10 Worst Films of the Year list, it appears Adam Shankman has finally come into his own. The name may not be as familiar as his films, but the man has directed some of the worst films in the last 11 years. Here’s the list in case you don’t believe me: The Wedding Planner, Bringing Down the House, The Pacifier, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, and Bedtime Stories. Then something happened five years ago to change all this.
Oh sure, A Walk to Remember is a passable movie, but it wasn’t until Shankman finally brought the Broadway musical Hairspray to the big screen that it was abundantly clear that the Hollywood musical is where he belongs. And now Shankman is at it again with this weekend’s Rock of Ages. It’s a big-haired, big-screen musical that owes more to the likes of Rent than anything, except this film has a far greater sense of humor; it also never approaches subjects like AIDS or anal sex. But what would a typical musical be without at least one plotline involving a gay duo, right? You’ll just never guess without watching the film which couple it turns out to hilariously be.
The main love story is barely cohesive, especially with star Julianne Hough in the lead. She plays most of her songs like she’s walking through music videos. But at least she fares way better here than she did in last year’s atrocious remake of Footloose. Hough plays Sherrie Christian, a small town girl, living in a lonely world, motorin’ her big move from Tulsa, Oklahoma to the bright lights of Hollywood where she meets-cute Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) during a mugging. Drew works at The Bourbon Room for Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his right-hand man, Lonnie (Russell Brand). Dennis is gearing up the bar for a farewell concert for Arsenal before lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) goes solo. Meanwhile, Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are busy trying to save the souls of Los Angeles from rock and roll raping their children’s ears. Together with Patricia’s Twisted Sisters of Piety, Patricia embarks on a personal vendetta against Stacee Jaxx himself and to close down The Bourbon Room for good.
The real star of the show here is by far Mr. Scientology himself, Tom Cruise, as Jaxx. While at first glance it may seem like Shankman is pulling another episode of stunt casting, ala John Travolta in Hairspray, let’s just say that Cruise steals the entire movie. For most of the runtime he’s seen very sporadically, crazy eyes in tow, while the film sort of meanders, looking for its footing. Then something magical happens when Cruise finally opens his mouth to sing. Talk about a revelation. To say that I want Cruise’s own Stacee Jaxx movie would be an understatement. We should demand it. If co-star Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow can get his own film (Get Him to the Greek), then why not Stacee Jaxx?
Shankman’s trio of writers, Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder, Iron Man 2), Allan Loeb (Just Go With It), and Chris D’Arienzo (who also wrote the original book), almost have too many characters, but thankfully, Shankman gives every actor his or her chance to shine. Even Malin Akerman gets to show off her chops in a hilarious, show-stopping duet of I Want to Know What Love is with Cruise. Meanwhile a subplot featuring Mary J. Blige as a gentlemen’s club owner proves completely worthless aside from having Blige sing on the soundtrack. There are probably a slew of deleted scenes featuring Blige’s Justice Charlier, littering the floor of an editing bay somewhere right now. The best part of the film is really how much fun it all is. Shankman has the tone’s tongue firmly planted in cheek, making Rock of Ages one for the ages.
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