It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Rock of Ages," a rags-to-riches rock 'n' roll musical set mostly in a music club on Sunset Strip, wins no prizes for originality. A lot of it is zesty entertainment, with some energetic musical numbers; several big names (Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin) prove they can sing well enough to play the Strip if they lose the day job. The two leads are Diego Boneta, as a bartender in the Strip's hottest club, and Julianne Hough, as a naive kid just off the bus from the Midwest. They're both gifted singers and join the others in doing covers of 1980s rock classics.
Of course they also fall in love. Of course they have heartfelt conversations while standing behind the "Hollywood" sign. Of course they break up because of a tragic misunderstanding. Of course their mistake is repaired and (spoiler!) they're back together at the end. Has ever a romance in a musical been otherwise?
They're sweet and likable, but for me, the better story involves the fate of the club, the Bourbon Room. Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), its owner, is desperate because he owes back taxes and will have to close the doors at any moment. His only confidante is a weathered rocker named Lonny (Russell Brand), whose primary function is to lean over him during phone calls and frantically tell him what to say. The person on the other end of the line is usually a venal music manager named Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti), who claims he will save the club by supplying his legendary client Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) for a one-night farewell concert.
If you're tracking those names, you're perhaps impressed. Adam Shankman's "Rock of Ages" not only has a high-profile cast, but they never seem to be slumming; they play their roles with great intensity and earnestness, which is really the only way to do satire.