Rock of Ages

As I walked into the theater to see “Rock of Ages”, I didn’t know what to expect.

That’s a lie. I did know what to expect.

Everything I had heard about it, everything I had seen about it, everything I read about it, gave me a pretty good indication as to what this movie was going to be. For myself, it was only a matter of determining whether it was going to be a fun journey through the heart of Rock n’ Roll, or a shit storm of awful created by somebody who has no idea what Rock n’ Roll truly is. Here is my review of “Rock of Ages”.

“Rock of Ages”, based on the popular stage play of the same name, is the story of a small town girl named Sherri (Julianne Hough) who comes to Hollywood circa 1987 to pursue her dream of becoming a rocker. Upon arrival, she meets Drew (Diego Boneta), a bartender working at the wildest bar on the Sunset Strip called “The Bourbon Room”. He too has big dreams of one day becoming a rock god. As this is happening, the bar is putting on a concert featuring legendary front man Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), a man who has completely immersed himself in his rock star persona. The bar, as well as Jaxx, are under attack by Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta Jones), the wife of Los Angeles Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston), who’s sole purpose is to kill the heart of the decadent lifestyle known as Rock n’ Roll.

On paper, this doesn’t sound like a bad movie. Of course, it’s a story that has been told a million times, so I can’t fault the movie for that. Where it inevitably (and almost immediately) falls apart is in the execution of telling this story. Let me preemptively say that I’m not a big fan of musicals; I have seen many “Stage-to-Screen” adapted musicals, and they are hit or miss for me at best. I do understand why people enjoy them, and I myself can enjoy a musical from time to time. But when the subject matter is something that is so near and dear to my heart, and I see that it’s not being true to itself and what it’s representing, that’s when I feel as though I must object and call “Bullshit”.

The entire film’s musical cues incorporate some of the most iconic songs of the 1980’s. However, I don’t even believe that half of the songs featured in the film are songs originally written and performed by bands that actually made the Sunset Strip what it was. Basically, 1980’s hair metal was not prominent in a film about the 1980’s hair metal scene. I understand that you are trying to tell a love story in the middle of all this mess, but try and show the genre a little more respect if you’re going to be glorifying it as much as you are.

From what I can gather, this movie thinks that they were the biggest hair metal band of all time.

If the song choices didn’t completely offend you, then the way that the songs are orchestrated may very well push you over the edge. If you are a fan of “Glee” (which I am not), you’ll understand the concept of a “mash-up”. It’s the process of taking two songs with somewhat similar tone/subject matter, and placing them together so that it becomes something that somehow better tells the story… or it just sounds kind of cool. Almost every song in the film is a mash-up with another song. I can’t help but feel as though the meaning of the song becomes void when you mash it together with another song and use it for your own devious intentions. I find the idea of the mash-up to be a horrible tool that is sucking the life out of otherwise good songs. And to use a device popularized by a bullshit show like “Glee” in your 80’s hair metal movie is wholly offensive.

And it just adds to the confusion when you consider the fact that the bands that are scattered throughout do in fact exist in this world, yet the songs that they are most famous for aren’t their songs. Honestly, I’m not sure if the songs that Stacee Jaxx sang are songs that belong to other artists, or if they are supposed to be his songs. When Drew’s band gets to perform on stage for the first time, they are instructed to not do any covers, and yet the song they perform is a Twisted Sister song. Did they write the song? The movie never explains it. No original songs were written for the movie, every song was a mediocre cover version of something we once loved.

If Glee didn’t officially kill this song, then this movie made sure to deliver the final death blow.

The overall look of the characters doesn’t ring true with the actually look of the Sunset Strip in the 80’s. The spandex, the hair, the over exaggerated makeup (and I’m talking about the men) weren’t really showcased at all. The look and feel of the film didn’t capture the time in the least.

Motley Crue, one of the most iconic bands to emerge from the Sunset Strip, is not featured in a movie about the Sunset Strip.

That brings me to my next topic. For those of you who are new to this music and lifestyle, let me explain some things. The Sunset Strip in the 1980’s was a glorified circus of decadence and destruction. Every guy with long hair and spandex pants was in a band, and every girl with heavily sprayed hair and cleavage was looking to sleep with those guys. Drugs were prevalent, prostitution was the norm, death via drug abuse was commonplace, as it was the life. Many bands didn’t see their dreams of stardom come to fruition, and many of them found refuge at the bottom of whatever bottle lay in front of them. And those bands who did go on to bigger and better things lived the most insanely brutal life you could imagine. Again, I understand that this film is supposed to be a fun experience, but you can’t turn a blind eye to the harsh realities of the subject matter and act as though it was all just fun and games. It was ugly and dirty, and at many times very far from being fun. I’m not saying it was all bad, otherwise nobody would have wanted to be a part of it, but to overlook it entirely makes this film horribly flawed.

If you want to know what I am talking about, watch Penelope Spheeris’ documentary entitled “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years”. That film gives you a real indication of what it was to live the life, and it furthers proves my point that “Rock of Ages” is terribly flawed and glamorizes everything that made the Sunset Strip what it was. Hell, you don’t even have to watch the whole thing, just watch this clip of W.A.S.P guitarist Chris Holmes sitting in a pool drunk off his ass with his mother sitting next to him. That five minute clip tells the tale more than any words of mine could ever provide.

The closest we come to looking into the reality of rock stardom is through Stacee Jaxx. Tom Cruise, to his credit, looked and acted like a true rock god lost in a sea of sex, drugs, and Rock n’ Roll. His stage presence, his demeanor, his attitude, all of it was spot on. Unfortunately, he and his monkey sidekick seem to be the only two characters in the film who get it. Everybody else is a terrible stereotype of the times. They spout off cheap 80’s references ad nauseum, and act as over the top caricatures and nothing more. And they do it poorly. You are reminded throughout the movie that you are in fact watching a movie, never fully being able to get lost in this world.

If you want a fantastical interpretation of the 1980’s hair metal scene, then watch “Rock Star”. Sure, it’s silly and over-the-top, but it does a much better job at portraying what it was to be a part of that movement in rock history. The songs were written for the fictional band in the film, making them a part of the world and adding legitimacy to its characters, something that “Rock of Ages” never seems to even attempt. Hell, read “The Dirt”, the official story of Motley Crue as told by the band themselves. That book will certainly open your eyes.

On a personal note, I love 80’s hair metal. It was what I was raised on. My own father was the front man of one of those many bands on the strip that never amounted to anything. I grew up listening to stories of his adventures at the Whiskey a Go-Go and The Rainbow Room. It was never sugar-coated or false, and I hung on every word. Though that time wasn’t something that should be glorified in the least, it was a very special time that changed the musical landscape forever. So many innovative bands emerged from this scene, and the fact that it is so horribly presented in this film is why it offends me so much.

Maybe it’s because it is so inaccurate. Maybe it’s because the terrible song cues pull you out of the story. Maybe it’s because the story is so poorly executed. O maybe it’s a combination of all of those things. But regardless, “Rock of Ages” is a cheap attempt at attacking the nostalgia that we have for the glitz and glamor of the Sunset Strip at its prime. This movie is the definition of viewing something with roses tinted glasses. It’s fake, it’s stupid, and it’s a slap in the face to an entire generation. “Rock of Ages” isn’t a film, it’s the raping of an entire decade.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go drown my sorrows with a combination of Jack Daniel’s and Motley Crue’s “Theatre of Pain”.

RATING: 2/10

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~ by Brandon Gnuschke on June 15, 2012.

One Response to “Rock of Ages”

  1. Nail…on…head!!! Very well done dude!!!

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