Friday 27 April 2018

Cruise and co will rock your world

Paul Whitington

film of the week

rock of ages (12A, general release, 123 minutes)

Director: Adam Shankman Stars: Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Julianne Hough, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones

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Cruise and co will rock your world

It sounds like a recipe for disaster: an ensemble rock opera based on a Broadway show inspired by the ghastly glam metal bands of the 1980s and starring Tom Cruise as a rock god. Rock of Ages reads like an accident waiting to happen, but while Adam Shankman's film is not without its problems, it shames me to admit I actually rather enjoyed it.

Messy and sprawling and totally over the top, Rock of Ages is curiously likeable, mainly because it wholeheartedly embraces its essential campness.

In fact, aside from a few scenes of nauseating sincerity between the two young leads, the film is a comic romp helped along by some winningly witty performances.

Some of the songs, though, do stretch the patience and, believe it or not, Journey's ubiquitous anthem Don't Stop Believin' features prominently on the play list.

Julianne Hough is Sherrie, the inevitable 'small-town girl' who arrives in Los Angeles starry-eyed and dreaming of stardom.

Her dreams of making it in the music business receive an instant dent when her suitcase is stolen, but she's then befriended by a young man called Drew (Diego Boneta), who works in the legendary Bourbon Room venue on Sunset Strip, and offers to get her a job there.

The Bourbon Room is run by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), an ageing rocker whose famous club has fallen on hard times.

He owes a small fortune in tax and is pinning his hopes on a forthcoming farewell gig by rock giants Arsenal, whose volatile lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) is about to embark on a solo career.

Dennis and Stacee go back a long way, but Stacee is unpredictable and the club owner is praying he'll actually show up and guarantee a gala night for the Bourbon Rooms.

But not everyone is backing the club's survival. Patricia Whitman (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the morally righteous wife of the city's mayor, has launched a campaign to clean up Sunset Strip and has targeted the club as the number one enemy of public decency.

Stacee's manager, Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) is a self-serving Machiavellian who'd mug his own grandmother and is out to swindle Dennis Dupree. And Drew and Sherrie's young love is about to get caught in the crossfire.

So much for Rock of Ages' plot, which cannot have detained anyone for more than a couple of minutes. It sounds like the storyline from one of the awful glam ballads the cast interminably break into, and is really an excuse for songs, dancing and -- crucially -- jokes.

Because it is humour that saves this film from becoming so excessively saccharine as to be indigestible.

Director Shankman and his choreographers have the good sense to stop and start the stadium anthems that punctuate the action, and mix them into medleys and recurring musical themes.

Some of the numbers, like Here I Go Again, Can't Fight This Feeling and Wanted Dead or Alive are a bit of fun, and it sounds like most of the cast, even Tom Cruise, did their own singing.

But the essential thing about this film is that all the 80s ballads are performed with wit, and tongues firmly in cheek.

Baldwin and Russell Brand, who plays his sidekick, are most entertaining, especially when they declare their undying love for each other in song, and Cruise goes the whole hog as a rock god who seems like an unholy cross between Axl Rose and Bono.

Whatever you might think of him, the man has comic timing, and while Rock of Ages' very existence should appall me, I must admit I actually thoroughly enjoyed it.

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