The ’80s rock movement was not about anything other than having fun. The bars were fun. The parties were fun. Heck, the music didn’t even have to make sense as long as it was fun.
So say the singers, songwriters, and spandex-wearing rock stars of the ’80s in “Legends of the Sunset Strip”, a 30-minute documentary on the Sunset Strip’s music scene. It’s included as bonus feature on the Rock of Ages Blu-ray, a disc packed with more extra footage than any fan could want, but missing the sole feature that made the movie worth watching. There’s more than two hours of footage, but no more than a few quick glimpses of the movie’s only highlight, Tom Cruise.
The movie tries to mimic its musical inspiration in intent, but it just isn’t as fun as the music itself. The script is filled with stock characters, contrived plots, and misunderstood actors. Is it a comedy? A drama? A musical? No one knows from scene to scene, and it plays out awkwardly. Rock of Ages comes briefly to life when its stars start belting out the hits like “Sister Christian”, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, and “I Wanna Rock”. Then you realize nothing more is going to happen and those numbers become pretty mundane, too.
In “It’s All About the Moves”, a bonus feature focusing on the dancing in the film, head choreographer Mia Michaels says she wanted it to appear like there may not be any choreography going on at all. Guess what. She nailed it. The dance numbers in this film are so lazily developed it’s easy to wonder if anyone was orchestrating anyone at all. The seven-minute featurette shows there was, but it may be better for Michaels’ career if she backs away from the credit on this one.
Better to lay the blame on director Adam Shankman. The choreographer-turned-director has already turned in one perfectly enjoyable musical—the 2007 hit Hairspray—and has had plenty of jobs in TV and film to assure his continued work. So he can survive the unquestioned hit he’ll take for this critical and box office dud.
I don’t know if I can say the same for the two young leads. Julianne Hough was terrific in last year’s mini-hit Footloose, but her stock as a movie star took its first downward swing after this one. Even less can be said for pop-star-trying-to-turn-movie-star Diego Boneta. Miscast and not up for much more than faking playing guitar (he says in another bonus feature he learned how, but it doesn’t come across on screen), Boneta should retreat back to his Latin music roots. Acting doesn’t appear to be his forte.
The veterans will survive because of credit they’ve built up over the years. Alec Baldwin isn’t great—especially in the musical numbers, where his movements are extremely rigid and uncoordinated—but how can you hold a grudge against Jack Donaghey? Catherine Zeta-Jones follows her one song’s advice and gives it her best shot, but is again let down by far too simple staging. Seriously. Why are all the dance numbers in a plainly-dressed room? Bryan Cranston, who plays her husband and the city’s mayor, isn’t in the film enough to blame him for any problems.
As I touched on earlier, the one highlight is also the film’s biggest star. Cruise never mails in a performance, and he’s raring to go here as the aging rock star Stacee Jaxx. Oozing with nonstop sexual charisma, Jaxx is a confused (and drunk) soul who longs for love but only finds meaningless sex. Cruise contorts his posture so he’s constantly thrusting his chest and stomach out in front of him. He projects an air of ownership, and boredom with that ownership
He also manages to elevate the material in a few otherwise-flat scenes, including an odd interchange about a “fire Phoenix” with Baldwin. He really shines right where we want him to: on stage. Cruise’s renditions of “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “I Want to Know What Love Is” would become legendary if anyone was willing to sit through the rest of the movie. They perfectly capture the sexual depravity and wild antics of the ’80s—exactly what the rest of the film fails to do—and Cruise’s voice is more than an acceptable substitute for the real rockers.
Baldwin, Shankman, and even the real members of Def Leppard have nothing but praise for the performance on the disc’s special features, but we never get to hear from Cruise about his five-hours-a-day, five-month training schedule. He pops up in some behind-the-scenes video, including a couple shots of him in the recording booth and on stage. That’s it, though.
Anyone who found enough joy in Rock of Ages to want to watch more, the Blu-ray release delivers everything else. There is an extended cut of the movie that adds about 13 minutes, including two seductive dance numbers by Julianne Hough. One of those also features Cruise as the two sing a duet of “Rock Me Like a Hurricane” while they swing around a stripper poll.
The scene was rumored to be cut in order to keep the more box office-friendly PG-13 rating, but I think they should have found a way to keep it. It helps the story ever so slightly, and it’s got the second-best choreography of all the numbers (behind “I Want to Know What Love Is”, also featuring Cruise). Michaels, the choreographer, says she and Shankman had a different idea for Cruise’s scenes, but he stepped in and worked with them to accomplish what ended up on screen—and what didn’t. That’s just one more reason to hate the MPAA.
Also included on the disc is a nifty feature that allows you to skip to any musical number and watch only that. If you can’t already guess, I strongly recommend this option. There’s also feature-length commentary from Shankman, Behind the Scenes short bonus clips, and another documentary featuring the real musicians who wrote the songs, this one about 13 minutes long. It’s a pretty impressive package, even if no one was asking for it.
The same cannot be said for the film, though I don’t know of too many people clamoring to hear movie stars sing karaoke. You can find it on YouTube if you do, and it won’t cost you a dime.