Film review: Rock of Ages (12A)

IT’S 1987 and wide-eyed small town girl Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) arrives in Los Angeles with stars in her eyes and mousse in her hair.

Seconds later, she’s robbed of her suitcase but also introduced to squeaky-clean barman Drew (Diego Boneta), who finds her a job at Sunset Strip rock palace the Bourbon Room, run by Dennis (Alec Baldwin, with the baddest hair in a bad hair movie) and his manager Lonny (Russell Brand) who is from Birmingham, sometimes.

The Bourbon looks an awful lot like the Whisky a Go Go, but I think it’s called the Bourbon partly because the Whisky refused to be libelled as a hangout for wannabe singers as insipid as Sherrie and Drew. Every time the Glee generation takes a solo spot in Rock Of Ages, the film dies a bit more. It’s up to the older, much older, supporting cast to inject some life into this two-hour nostalgic jukebox musical.

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Catherine Zeta-Jones turns up as a Tipper Gore-style prude, determined to shut down the Bourbon. Mary J Blige appears as the owner of a PG strip joint where the girls dance around poles to Journey’s Any Way You Want It while wearing more clothes than you’ll see down Broughty Ferry beach in April. And the vanity-free Paul Giamatti sports a Francis Rossi ponytail as a manager so weaselly that mustelids everywhere may be forced to consult their lawyers.

Above all there is a topless, reckless Tom Cruise, giving the strangest performance of what is a very strange life, as a Bon-Jovi-style frontman called Stacee Jaxx. From his first appearance in guyliner, a codpiece and some well-ventilated chaps, Cruise gives the role everything, with the kind of Cruise intensity that naturally included five hours of daily singing lessons. He sounds fine, but what’s missing is any kind of rock god allure. When he sings I Want to Know What Love Is while sexing up a Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman), he’s so lost that he ends up bellowing the chorus up the back of her knickers. On the plus side, however, she’s a music writer with impressive matching underwear. Such impeccable dressage cannot be guaranteed of film journalists.

I enjoyed Rock Of Ages slightly more than Mamma Mia, although in the same way that most of us prefer a pill to an enema. Musically this is messy stuff, padding its 1980s-hair metal brief to include outsiders such as Pat Benatar, and a time-travelling Extreme.

More crucially, it a metal musical that never dares to let its hair down, at least until a romantic montage-duet cover of Can’t Fight This Feeling, where Brand and Baldwin reveal some frisky feelings. Together, they sing with the cautionary timbre of lost dogs, and it’s a great moment of trashy exhilaration. If only there were more of them.

Rock Of Ages (12A)

Director: Adam Shankman

Running time: 123 minutes

Rating; **

On general release.