I would rather sit on flaming hot pokers for two hours than watch a film containing body horror. I'd rather spend a night of unbounded passion with Lembit Opik than listen to an entire album of death metal. Many members of the Great British public- and especially the male quota- would rather lick every pavement in Camden Town than watch a movie musical giving 80s rock a High School Musical make over. But luckily for Rock of Ages, I am not one of those people.
Adam Shankman, choreographer extraordinaire and the director behind Hairspray the movie, takes the directorial helm once more for what has to be the campest hit of 2012. Think Glee does rock week, add a hefty dose of blue eyeliner and none-too-subtle allusions to wild sex, and you're close to the Rock of Ages experience. Calling on our guilty weakness for soft rock and singing in the aisles, Shankman has peppered his latest oeuvre with an all star cast comprising of Hollywood's most deluded oompah loompah, Tom Cruise, every boy's teenage dream, Julianne Hough, and some sturdy acting stock in the form of Paul Giamatti and Alec Baldwin. But a star-studded cast alone cannot a movie make, as New Years Eve will testify.
The narrative follows a 'small town girl' (three guesses which soft rock number that's going to lead to- no prizes for getting it right, mind) Sherrie (Julianne Hough), whose Hollywood dreams fall flat on their face when she arrives in the rain, among a shoal of prostitutes, being mugged and groped and enduring all shades of nastiness. Until, a knight in eyeliner and skinnies (Drew, played Diego Boneta, owner of a face so akin to a puppy dog the whole relationship almost feels bestial) picks her up, in more ways than one. Working side-by-side in the Bourbon Room bar, a pit of 12A-rated sex, drugs and rock and roll- which has a palpable lack of cocaine and any nonsense above 1st base- they become embroiled in a war between the mullet-topped rockers of sunset strip and the twin-set and pearls army behind the Mayor of Los Angeles. Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), a man with a more ridiculous demeanour than his name, is the Messiah of rock and rollers, and along with Bourbon's owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his Geordie/Scouse/Brummie/whatever he damn well feels like sidekick, Lonny (Russell Brand) they try to protect the Sunset Strip from the clutches of the appalled conservatives. Led by a viscious, sexy, brilliant Catherine Zeta Jones as the Mayor's wife, Patricia Whitmore, the pearl-encrusted prudes put up a good fight... but is all as it seems with Mrs and Mr Whitmore? Is Stacee Jaxx really all he's cracked up to be? Will Sherrie and Drew last on the mean streets of LA? And what the blazes has Mary J Blige got to do with it all?! I shan't spoil any more. You can drag you're unwilling other half and find out for yourself, ladies (yep, I know you're the only ones still reading).
On the whole, Rock of Ages is good sing-a-long fun with some genuinely funny moments of very base humour. Thankfully, the cast seems to have their collective tongues firmly in cheek. All except for- entirely predictably- Little God Cruise, who tries so hard to be rock and roll, out of it, wild and oozing primal sexuality, you can practically smell his desperation, with a top note of chino and comb over. There are some bum-clenching moments of musical theatre cringiness: namely a bus-load of strangers bursting into empathetic song, and a particularly odd moment of song in the urinal. Yet alongside these almost child-like attributes, is a worryingly adult collection of pole dance and strip scenes- which, at best, condone wiggling in your thong for money, and at worst, recommend it as a legitimate and empowering way to conduct yourself. To my mind, it's an inappropriate message for a 12A film, much in the same way that Christina Aguilera and her Burlesque bunch showing up on the XFactor was an utterly misguided decision for a family show.
However, despite its flaws, it's a real challenge to keep your face straight, your head from bobbing or your vocal chords from twitching. Although Hough and Boneta are so sickly saccharine it's a wonder they don't come with a health warning (not to mention possessing a gaping chasm where their inner rock stars should be), Paul Giamatti is delectably sleazy, and a more than worthy villainous counterpoint. Zeta Jones is easily the star of the show: spitting bile, dancing like a pro, looking sexier in a twin set than Sarah Palin through beer goggles, and wielding her dominating presence like a lethal weapon. Who needs Tom Cruise?
Rock of Ages does exactly what it says on the tin. It's big and not very clever, it's unashamedly cheesy and it knows it, it's not quite all sequins and feathers... but certainly studs and spandex. It's not a film Axl Rose would rush to put his name to... but when did Axl Rose ever have judgement worth following? Go with an open mind, or even expecting the worst, and enjoy Rock of Ages for what it is: a back-combed, high legged, writhing mass of guilty pleasure.