With the stage version of Rock of Ages set to debut at the Venetian later this year, it might be a good idea to just hold off on seeing Adam Shankman’s new film adaptation, at least if you want to retain any enthusiasm for the show. Shankman and screenwriters Justin Theroux, Allan Loeb and Chris D’Arienzo have shifted around plot elements and added new characters, but they’ve lost whatever charm was evident in D’Arienzo’s original.
Set on the Sunset Strip in 1987 and soundtracked by the hard-rock hits of the era, Rock of Ages has the thinnest possible story to support its two-hour-plus running time, built around the vapid romance between aspiring singers Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta). There are subplots involving an egomaniacal rock star (Tom Cruise), a Tipper Gore-like moral crusader (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and the owner (Alec Baldwin) of the club where Sherrie and Drew work, but all of them are completely insubstantial as well.
A musical doesn’t need an intricate, compelling plot if it has sensational production numbers and charismatic lead actors, but Rock of Ages has neither. Most of the actors deliver their songs competently, but it’s still like watching very attractive people perform unremarkable karaoke. The bland Hough and Boneta lack chemistry, and while Cruise, Baldwin, Russell Brand and Paul Giamatti have fun with their characters, the script barely offers them anything to go on. Rock of Ages is packed with songs that have roused arena-rock crowds for years, and it manages to turn them into something as exciting and dangerous as a theme-park revue. –Josh Bell