Rock of Ages ★★★

Musicals require a suspension of disbelief that no other film genre asks. There’s so little effort put toward plots nowadays in these films that they merely advertise the music that’s in them, the stars, or really anything else that emphasizes that this here is a spectacle with no depth whatsoever. Some may not like that prospect, but there’s something genuinely entertaining about having characters go around, in front of people who treat it normally, and sing their hearts out, saying things that sometimes work better than dialogue. I find it enjoyable to see so many stars gather, put on a show for two hours, and then end it on a note we knew they would the entire time. There’s nothing new here. You don’t go see a film musical in today’s world in hopes of some biting satire or observations; you’ll get some, sure, but they won’t be dense and they won’t be anything unique. It’s quite simple, really: if you have any desire to see this type of film, you’re going to enjoy the ride. But if you’re not, this film won’t convert you; it’ll simply reinforce your beliefs on film musicals and their ultimate failure to do anything but entertain. It’s harsh truth, but it’s one I embrace.

The movie is about thirty minutes too long, but that’s because it focuses on a plot we’ve seen before, and characters we’ve come across. Julianne Hough is the highlight, in my opinion; she’s a beautiful actress who has quite a bit of talent, once again apparent here. I saw it last year in the very good Footloose, a movie I didn’t expect to hold the emotional weight it did. She’s settling into a comfort zone that won’t allow a whole lot of leeway when it comes to future gigs, but I think she has the capabilities to be any type of actress she wants. She has a talent, both vocally and acting-wise, that most young actresses today don’t; there are too many pretty faces out there without a shred of talent that get too much attention, but she has the potential. Diego Boneta is quite good as well, although his role doesn’t allow as much of a display as hers.

The most remarkable performance here, though, is Cruise’s; it’s a scene-stealer, and not nearly as prominent as one would expect. He maybe occupies forty minutes of screen time, far less than you would expect for how much he’s been pushed as the star. He is, both literally and in the film, and there’s a sense of strong satire through every frame of his work here. That’s why his, and Baldwin and Brand’s (which I’ll discuss shortly), are the best in the film: they’re playfully mocking the things they are taking seriously, both in musical form and in personalities, and I think that’s why those elements work and are fun. They all seem to be playing themselves in some form or another, mocking a star image or rock follower and identifying what makes them how they are; the sexual innuendos that come across through that are the most apparent I’ve seen this year. Even the raunchiest, R-rated comedies didn’t have this type of sexual perversion, but it works magnificently with what they are trying to do with the work. It’s exaggerated, and something we’ve seen before, as I said, but I think it’s enjoyable in that regard because it’s fiercely committed to by all these actors.

The music, though. My God, the music. It’s glorious. I mean that as a fan of rock, as someone who has been eager to see this film for quite some time solely due to the artists they use here. It’s no secret that “Don’t Stop Believin’” is the final song used here, and it’s become almost exhausting to hear that song in all its glory, but here it’s effectively cheesy and efficient. I love that song almost more than any other, just due to how I feel it would sound in an arena. That’s how a lot of this music works: I think of how I would’ve experienced them in concert form, see how effectively they would’ve played over me, and then treat them as the anthems that they are. That’s why I enjoy them so much. Their ambition runs rampant even when the songs are sometimes just about sex and drugs; the songs themselves sound beautiful in how loud and awesome they are. There’s an inspired use of “Anyway You Want It” as well, and another that Baldwin and Brand sing that works better than it would sound if I described it.

I chuckled quite a bit here, but there are no huge laughs. The one bit I found the most amusing was when Jaxx, Cruise’s character, is walking toward a woman he may love, and another walks up to him and starts kissing him. He stops in his tracks, has his eyes open, and holds up his finger to signal to the other girl; he needs to finish this up. The woman spends close to twenty seconds on him while he just stands there as nonchalantly and motionless as possible; it’s funnier to see than to describe, but that’s how a lot of the film is. There’s one costume bit in particular that by describing I would just sound idiotic, so I’ll leave it at that. On an unrelated note, I know people will comment on the line in the final moments while singing “Don’t Stop Believin’”: “The movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on…” That line is a critic’s heaven, something they can use for all it’s worth. It’s an easy one to use on a film if you don’t enjoy its subject matter or the genre itself.

But I did. I found Rock of Ages to be exactly what I expected: ridiculous, over-the-top, dumb, intentionally funny, unintentionally funny, and cheesy. If you’re expecting any of those sorts and hoping that you’ll enjoy the film, you will. It’s the exact thing it promises, and you’re foolish to go into the film expecting anything different. It’s shot like a music video and features some of the most rapid editing I’ve ever seen (in all seriousness, though, they need to check the record books; this film felt like what it would be like to have an epileptic seizure). Most importantly, though, it’s fun for what it is, and it’s something I could listen to in the background because that’s what it is. About half of the film is filled with musical numbers, and that’s not an exaggeration. I wish all of it was the numbers, all being exactly what the tagline is: nothing but a good time. For the most part, it is, and for that I’m grateful.