Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Rock of Ages" Makes Me Want to Create Bad Puns

Wreck of Ages... Puke of Ages... Waste of Wages...

Let me just get this out first, before I get any further. "Rock of Ages" is a very, very bad movie. I have not seen the show on Broadway. I don't know if it pulls off the feat that the material would seem to indicate it's built for. And by that, I mean that using these songs and this ridiculous attempt at creating characters who can fit the songs (sort of) and an even more ridiculous plot... Well, it has to be a send-up. It has to be silly. It has to be a cheesefest. It can't ever take itself seriously. It has to move like the wind. Or there's no way it's going to work.

I'm thinking somewhere in the neighborhood where "The Blues Brothers" meets "This Is Spinal Tap," with a Def Leppard/Journey/Poison/Bon Jovi/Styx karaoke soundtrack.

But in the movie version of "Rock of Ages," director Adam Shankman has hedged his cheese bets, cast several terrible actors who are somehow less human and real (and far less versatile) than Barney the Purple Dinosaur, put the songs in the neighborhood of action that doesn't work with them at all, and edited it all in a chaotic, choppy style that stays far too long in some places and whirls through others with no sense of pace or style or even sense. As a result, where "Rock of Ages" should play cheerfully fast and loose, it comes off turgid and tone-deaf instead.

There are huge problems with the script, which opens with a bus scene that should be used as an example in Screenwriter School of exactly the kind of scene not to use to open a movie. Romance writers have been schooled for years NOT to begin with their heroines sitting on trains, buses, planes or any other mode of transport on their way to somewhere. Start the action. Don't show the bus ride there. If romance writers all know that, how have a team of screenwriters missed it?

They've also changed a Teutonic father-and-son team of developers threatening the LA club at the center of the action into an anti-rock 'n' roll crusader (the mayor's wife, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) who is hiding a secret torrid past as a groupie under her smut-snatching exterior. That's no biggie to me -- I don't care all that much about either Teutonic developers or Puritanical smut-snatchers -- but Zeta-Jones' character is over-the-top in all the wrong ways, and when she and her cohorts launch into their muscular dances it just seems weird to be spending time with them and their "Beat It" moves.

But if we're not there, we're back with the most lifeless couple this side of Madame Toussaud's. That would be one Sherrie, given a Minnie Mouse voice and a lack of anything remotely resembling a character by former "Dancing With the Stars" chickadee Julianne Hough, and Latin hunk Diego Boneta as her cute but dim boyfriend, Drew. He has nice curls to toss around, she doesn't play to her strength (dancing), and there is so little chemistry between them that watching them attempt to jump through the idiotic plot hurdles provided by the plot is simply excruciating. Unwatchable. Agony.

I think that's mostly on Hough, whose Sherrie is dull, vapid and brainless. Boneta at least seems to have a pulse. Sometimes. Plus he can emote a little through his songs, which she absolutely cannot. The life is lip-sync'd out of everything (except for Mary J. Blige, below) across the cast but even so... I kept wondering what Julianne Hough might be suited for, in terms of movie roles. A Bratz Doll movie? A Sandra Dee biopic? Or a remake of one of those "Sandra Dee dates Tab Hunter and gets pregnant" movies from the 60s? It all sounds beyond her reach.

Or maybe it's just the terrible editing. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, who play the club owner and his BFF, ought to be perfect for this material. They're both adept comics and they know how to create bizarre characters we can find amusing as well as compelling. But their scenes are as ham-handed as everybody else's. That includes Bryan Cranston as the mayor, Paul Giamatti as a slimy music agent, and Malin Akerman as a Rolling Stone reporter. Mary J. Blige shows up to wail the heck out of a few songs, which is welcome, but Blige can't act, either.

And then there's Tom Cruise... It's not every international superstar who will willingly don what appears to be a jockstrap with a red jeweled dragon lunging out of his crotch, bare more of his skin than he did when he was 25, wear a tattoo that seem to be demanding we pay attention to his left nipple the whole movie, let his scenes get stolen by a monkey, and in general, act like some caricature that Ben Stiller came up with to mock Tom Cruise. In fact, Cruise bears an uncanny resemblance to Stiller in this film. Why Tom Cruise wanted to be in "Rock of Ages" I have no idea, but he's not doing the movie any more favors than it's doing him.

So what do we have here? None of the jokes land, everybody seems stranded on the screen without a life raft, and it's just one blocky, unshaped scene after another. Oh, and it's more than two hours long. Just when you think it must surely be headed for a conclusion, it finds more filler to stuff the plot with.

You've been warned. Enter "Rock of Ages" at your peril.

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