Based on the musical currently wowing the West End (starring Justin Lee Collins) and Broadway comes this big screen bombardment of 80s rock.
The story is simple – a small town girl, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) up sticks from Tulsa to the bright lights of LA in the hope of making it as a singer. She meets city boy Drew (Diego Boneta) who is also a singer, who gets her a job at the ‘in’ bar on Sunset Strip, The Bourbon Lounge. This is owned by Alec Baldwin’s Dennis Dupree, who is struggling to keep the place going and is banking on the farewell gig from rock legends Arsenal, whose singer, Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) is going solo. The wife (Catherine Zeta Jones) of the local mayor (Bryan Cranston) has made it her mission to close the Bourbon and rid LA of the curse of rock.
Full disclosure here, I’ve not seen the play, so can’t compare the film. From what I’ve heard it’s more tongue in cheek and humourous. The film however, does take itself quite seriously so when it is funny, or trying to be, it doesn’t always come off. The music is brilliant, without doubt. But then I would say that as this is the sort of music I listened to back then, and still do now. I doubt however, a lot of the target audience for this film (and probably the play too) would be too familiar with the likes of Night Ranger, Warrant and Twisted Sister. They may know the songs through horrid X Factor type rip offs (yes of course you’re going to get Don’t Stop Believing, but how many watching know anything else Journey did? They probably don’t even equate another song aired, Any Way You Want It to them). Despite my reservations, the film wasn’t that bad, even if it did feel a little too much like a rock version of High School Musical. Director Adam Shankman works the magic he did transferring the Hairspray musical to the screen, although I will only really ever acknowledge the John Waters original. He also worked as choreographer on the Buffy episode, Once More With Feeling, and you do get that flare here and there, but you don’t feel the songs are as integrated into the script as well as Joss Whedon did.
The characterisations are all very stereotyped and over the top; there are lots of ‘devil’s horns’ and sticking out of tongues – but if I’m being honest, that can be a fair representation of a lot of the wannabe bands of the time (some even do it today). Because this doesn’t set out to spoof the times or genre, which This Is Spinal Tap did all too perfectly, those who don’t have a connection to the songs or the time may feel a little let out, or just not ‘get it’. The stage version was made as a celebration of the music, much in the same way Mamma Mia was, and this adaptation carries that spirit too, thankfully. There is some great commentary on the shifting musical tastes, however, when dodgy manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) signs up young Drew and convinces him to join a boy band. Musically, though it hits most of the right notes, and the song mash-ups actually work really well – Juke Box Hero and I Love Rock n’ Roll are perfect together! They missed a trick though by not having the Def Leppard song Rock of Ages in there somewhere (Pour Some Sugar On Me gets an airing during one of the concert sections though)
The two young leads are good enough, but are far too clean cut and polished to be completely believable in the parts. Cruise is entertaining as the rock god, channeling all the trappings of the iconic stars, the temperament of Axl Rose, the swagger and attitude of Jim Morrison, and Kid Rock’s coat (although, of course Kid would be a star much later than the 80s, more on that sort of thing later..). The on stage persona is how you can imagine him playing Lestat if they’d have continued filming the Anne Rice books instead of combining the second with Queen of the Damned. Alec Baldwin is great as the club’s owner, once you get over the jarring image of him with long hair and playing air guitar. The BIG weak spot for the film is Russell Brand. He is truly terrible. His accent seemed to go from Birmingham to Welsh to his normal ‘cheeky chappie’ style, and he is just NOT funny. Even if he had the funniest lines in the world, he would ruin them. All of these, however are upstaged by Jaxx’s ever present right hand man, a baboon called Hey Man.
Now, onto pedant’s corner. First of all, take a look at the poster. Alec Baldwin there, looking all rock n’ roll in a fantastic KISS t-shirt. Great stuff. Except THAT particular shirt didn’t see the light of day until the band re-united with the original members – in 1996. Not good for a film set in 1987. He does wear it in the film, too so it’s not just an advertising faux pas. KISS, of course were massive in the States in the 70s, and then were having their second wind success wise in the mid 80s (there is – correctly – a large poster for Crazy Nights in the Tower Records store they go to in the film). You would argue, then that this is an old, faded (as that’s how it looks) vintage shirt? You could, but you’d be very wrong. Yep, I know my KISS. That design never existed ‘back in the day’. Also, in the very same Tower Records, playing in the background is one of the few original artists songs on the soundtrack. Namely, I Remember You by Skid Row. A song which did not get released until 1989. OK, that’s a small point but I needed to get it out of my system.
On a plus note, it was nice to spot a few familiar faces in the crowd scene at the end. A nice nod to those who actually DO love this type of music and lived (and not only survived, but still love) the big hair metal scene of the late 80s. So keep your eyes peeled for Skid Row’s former vocalist, Sebastian Bach, pop princess Debbie Gibson – who pops up now and again in films like Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and Kevin Cronin, better known as the voice and keys in REO Speedwagon.
Maybe I’m getting soft after enjoying Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band but for all it’s faults, I didn’t hate this. I don’t know if I’ll ever watch it again, though.
6 out 10