The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Rock of Ages
Own it on Blu-Ray combo pack or digital download 10/9/12

Thanks in part to films like Chicago, Dreamgirls, Mamma Mia, and Hairspray, the movie musical has had a resurgence in popularity over the past decade. Rock of Ages could kill that. A fine example of the old adage “it takes a lot of talented people to make a bad movie,” the film adapts the hit Broadway musical with a leaden quality that does the opposite of what a musical should do. Instead of lifting you up, it leaves you squirming in your seat and wondering when the torment will end. Disjointed and bombastic, it's like someone ate an '80s record collection, puked it up, and then ran it through a film projector.

Julianne Hough plays Sherrie, a small-town girl who takes a bus to Hollywood in order to fulfill her dreams of becoming a famous singer. She meets and falls for another aspiring singer named Drew (Diego Boneta), who is crippled by stage fright. He gets her a job at a nightclub called the Bourbon, run by the cranky Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his right-hand man Lonny (Russell Brand). The Bourbon is having a serious financial crisis, which Dennis hopes to resolve by hosting a concert from rock superstar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). Much to the chagrin of everyone, including his manager Paul (Paul Giamatti), Jaxx is a booze-swilling, unreliable nightmare, prone to odd behavior and indulgence of groupies. Rolling Stone journalist Constance Sack (Malin Akerman) intends to expose him, as does Tipper Gore-esque political wife Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is leading a boycott of Jaxx and “obscene” rock music in general.

As all of these subplots carry on, the characters frequently break into song. Rock of Ages uses dozens of well-known mid- and late-'80s hard rock hits, including ones from Def Leppard, Poison, Pat Benatar, Night Ranger, and Guns 'N Roses.

It's rare to find a movie that seems so intent on working against itself. There are so many wrong choices here that it's a little staggering. For starters, the actors all seem like they're making different films. Hough and Boneta appear to be starring in an earnest young-kids-seeking-fame drama. Zeta-Jones brings an over-the-top comedic quality to her part, while Giamatti and Baldwin essentially play it straight. The horribly miscast Cruise inhabits his role as though he's satirizing Axl Rose in a bad “Saturday Night Live” sketch. Brand carries on as he would in a stand-up performance, tossing in a lot of clearly improvised lines that have little or nothing to do with anything else on screen. The plot itself is already a mess, weaving back and forth from one subplot to the next, never meshing them all into something cohesive. That only accentuates the lack of unity among the players.

After the admittedly spirited opening, the musical numbers quickly go south. Many of them involve characters singing the same song in different locations, which takes away their momentum. We see one person singing, then cut to someone else singing. Production numbers work best when the singers are interacting and dancing together to create a visual spectacle. Breaking those numbers up makes them smaller. Some of director Adam Shankman's staging is weird too. Boneta performs the opening of one song while peeing at a urinal (you can hear his urine hitting the toilet while he croons), whereas Cruise sings Foreigner's “I Want to Know What Love Is” directly into Akerman's butt. (Don't ask.) One can almost sense the director trying desperately to find interesting things for the actors to do while belting out tunes.

You may think that the songs themselves will be the saving grace for Rock of Ages. Although I grew up in the era, I don't like heavy metal/hair band music. Not that it matters. Since most of the cast members are not professional singers, they do the songs no favors. Poor match-ups between those who can sing and those who are less skilled make for some awkward moments. Take, for instance, the scene in which Chipmunk-voiced Julianne Hough is forced to sing a duet with the eternally-soulful Mary J. Blige, who plays the manager of a strip club Sherrie ends up at. It's almost laughable. At times, I felt sorry for the cast, because they end up appearing silly.

To its credit, Rock of Ages looks phenomenal. Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli gives the picture a slick, glossy feel, almost like a heavy metal album cover come to life. But Shankman is so intent on getting the surface stuff right that he sacrifices a consistent tone and compelling story/character development. The film frankly got on my nerves after a while, as it devolved into a loud, overbearing disaster. The climax features everyone singing the Journey song “Don't Stop Believin'”. You may recall that the song has a lyric which goes: The movie never ends. It just goes on and on and on. The irony of that lyric being sung in Rock of Ages was not lost on me.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Rock of Ages will be released on Blu-Ray combo pack, DVD, and digital download on October 9. As much as I disliked it, I have to say that the bonus features on the Blu-Ray are actually really terrific. They begin with “Legends of the Sunset Strip,” a 30-minute segment hosted by Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough, that looks at the real-life musicians who were integral to the era portrayed in the film. Big names like Dee Snider, Joe Elliot, Kip Winger, Kevin Cronin, Sebastian Bach, and Pat Benatar offer up their personal – and often extremely funny – memories of life on the Strip. Specifically, they discuss fans/groupies, the prevalence of drugs, and the crazy fashions. Dee Snider astutely points out that, while it was a fun time, young people today have a romanticized vision of what it was like. It's great fun to see so many well-known musicians as they are now; some still look defiantly rock-and-roll, while others ironically look more “establishment.”

“The Stories We Sing” is a 12-minute feature hosted by Bret Michaels, in which the same musicians talk about how some of their most famous songs were written. You'll hear interesting back-stories about Night Ranger's “Sister Christian,” Poison's “Nothing but a Good Time,” REO Speedwagon's “Can't Fight This Feeling,” and Journey's “Don't Stop Believin'” After an anecdote related to Def Leppard's “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” there is some really amazing footage of the band meeting Tom Cruise – in full Stacee Jaxx get-up – just as he's about to film a sequence performing their song. Again, this feature is a lot of fun for anyone who grew up in the '80s or loves the hard rock from that period.

“Defining a Decade” is a multi-part making-of feature, with each chapter devoted to a specific element of the movie. The costumes, choreography, hairstyles, and sets are all given attention, and the movie's stars talk about their own connections to the music. The most compelling sections are the ones dedicated to the evolution of the stage show and the one showing how a small section of Miami was turned into a period recreation of the Sunset Strip.

If you want to watch a specific musical number, they are available individually via a separate menu. Last, but not least, Rock of Ages has two separate cuts: the theatrical cut and the extended cut, which is 13 minutes longer and sports an R rating. It contains some additional sexual material, including a longer version of an already risque scene between Tom Cruise and Malin Akerman.

An UltraViolet copy of the movie is included in the pack.

Rock of Ages is rated PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language. The running time is 2 hours and 3 minutes.

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