For a film ostensibly about the excesses of a particularly extravagant musical period, Rock of Ages is remarkably docile.
There’s no sweat, vomit, blood, or faeces-filled jeans (well, one pair) and, crucially, not a single musical moment that makes you want to hurl yourself from your cinema seat and pogo wildly in the aisles. In essence, sex, drugs and rock & roll are blown off for bras, alcohol and MOR.
Recreating LA’s glam/hair rock scene on the infamous Sunset Strip in 1987, the story follows small-town-girl Sherrie and city boy Drew as they follow their musical dreams; finding love, losing love, finding it again, singing in tune for a bit and absolutely in no way taking any illegal substances or taking off more clothes than are absolutely necessary. Even when forced to work in the local strip club, where it looks as though the cleaning lady has just been in and given the floors and the poles a thorough polishing.
This antiseptic cleanliness pervading the film is mirrored by the two leads (newcomers Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta) who are both pretty and bland and can hold a tune but not the attention. It’s only when the old guard of Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti and Tom Cruise arrive to ham it up graciously that events perk up. Indeed, Baldwin and Russell Brand’s touching REO Speedwagon duet is one of the highlights, despite the latter’s hopeless Brummie accent disappearing and reappearing throughout the movie like a whack-a-mole Jasper Carrott.
However, the greatest issue is that for a film about the decadence and glory of a live music scene, it feels so dreadfully pre-recorded. Everything is choreographed to within a permed hair’s breadth and this sucks out any chaos, any real drama, and any life from the music, despite the film-makers’ obvious passion for it. Ultimately, the movie is the Glee-ification of the rock gods and songs of this era; as easy to ignore as it is hard to completely dislike.
Too reverent and humourless to be a parody, too camp and sanitised to be a serious homage, this sits in an awkward no-man’s land, neither defining nor dissecting - and, most disappointingly, not rocking.