Sherrie and Drew (played by Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta) are two young musicians trying to hit the big time on the Sunset Strip and it's not long before they become involved with each other and a struggling night club whose owners are just waiting for the one big gig to save them from bankruptcy.
What we thought:
If 1980s hair-metal/poodle-rock has one saving grace is that it is daft, cheesy fun. In the history of rock and roll, it is largely and rightly considered to be one of the genre's low points and with its banal melodies, inane lyrics, plodding rhythms and all the edginess of, well, a poodle, it's not hard to see why. And yet, for all of that, unlike say, grunge, it does at least have enough of a sense of its own ridiculousness to ensure that songs like We Built This City On Rock and Roll never truly deserve their reputations as "the worst song ever".
Rock of Ages is a musical built around nostalgia for that period of big sounds and bigger hair and, in the tradition of Mamma Mia and Across the Universe, it uses the massive rock hits of the time to form some sort of narrative. Needless to say, this is a disastrous idea.
It's difficult enough to build a story around Beatles songs (great music, great lyrics) and almost impossible to base a story around ABBA songs (great music, iffy lyrics) but it is sheer, bloody-minded lunacy to try and tell a story based on 80s corporate rock (bad music, truly horrendous lyrics).
As such, right from the outset, the only way in hell that Rock of Ages was going to work was by tapping in to its music's inherent sense of campy fun. It was never going to be good but it could have been real, trashy fun. It was never going to be West Side Story (Shakespeare and Sondheim are going to beat Whitesnake and Jefferson Starship every time) but it could have been, obviously inferior music aside, a decent follow up to Mamma Mia. Mamma Mia was, as you may recall, a truly atrocious film but by revelling in its own insane ridiculousness, it somehow became one of the most gloriously enjoyable musicals ever. Sadly, Mamma Mia this film ain't.
The worst thing about Rock of Ages isn't that it's bad, but that it's so unbelievably dull. Actually, scratch that: it's not unbelievably dull, it's not noteworthy or interesting enough to be "unbelievably" anything. Rock of Ages is – and I don't use this word lightly – blah. Straight down the line, everything about Rock of Ages is simply completely lacking, but never lacking enough to so much as approach becoming a genuine guilty pleasure.
Tom Cruise does a middling job of playing a self-involved, ludicrous rock star, Russell Brand has you missing his character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Alec Baldwin makes you wish you were rather watching 30 Rock and Catherine Zeta-Jones does an adequate job in a thankless role as a shrill, fairly revolting rock 'n roll-hating conservative. Even the always great Bryan Cranston (Drive, Breaking Bad) looks like he accidentally stumbled into the film while waiting for something better to come by.
As for the two "stars" of the film, Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough, they are sure to have you longing for Christina Aguilera and Zac Efron in no time, despite being perfectly likeable. In fact, I like pretty much everyone in the film and yet, I couldn't help thinking all the way through, where is Pierce Brosnan steam-rolling his way through ABBA’s back catalogue when you need him?
And that's just the performances. The story is crap obviously, but it's crap in a way that's boring and clichéd, rather than truly memorably horrendous and Adam Shankman's direction always stays far too close to tastefully solid for comfort when it should be aiming for tastelessly demented. Remember Across the Universe's nutty psychedelic imagery, Rocky Horror Picture Show's unrepentant perversity and Mamma Mia's hilariously silly choreography? There's none of that in Rock of Ages. In Rock of Ages, mediocrity rules.
As for the music – that oh so crucial matter of the music - it's still rubbish, but by replacing the big-headed crassness of the originals with this sense of smoothed over, slick, seemingly auto-tuned professionalism, it loses whatever little charm it may have once had. Of course, that's really kind of emblematic of the film as a whole: What we want is charming awfulness, what we get is slick mediocrity. And in this case, that just ain't good enough.