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Rock of Ages and Fast Girls
Bow down to the gods of rock as director Adam Shankman cranks up the volume to 11 for an energetic musical based on a popular stage show. Punctuated by breathlessly choreographed, show-stopping renditions of Pat Benatar, Europe, Foreigner, Journey and Poison among others, Rock of Ages is 123 minutes of unabashed joy.
The cast are in fine voice including a bare-chested Tom Cruise, who took singing lessons to deliver Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead Or Alive and Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me with a primal swagger. He rocks.
So does Shankman’s film which captures the same vitality and boundless sense of fun as the director’s 2007 Hairspray, swapping the racial tensions of 1960s Baltimore for the wild abandon of 1980s Hollywood, which serves as a vibrant backdrop here to long-haired, leather-clad romance.
Wannabe singer Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) leaves Oklahoma for Los Angeles, where her luggage and record collection are stolen the moment she steps off the bus. She is rescued by aspiring rocker Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) who works as a bartender at The Bourbon Room. He persuades owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and right-hand man Lonny Barnett (Russell Brand) to hire Sherrie as a waitress.
Lovebirds Drew and Sherrie don’t stop believin’ in their dreams, even when Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) comes between them. “When my hamster died, your music really helped me through!” Sherrie coos to her idol, just before Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) pledge to clean up the city by shutting down the dens of musical inequity. “Rock ’n’ roll is a disease — but it is a disease with a cure!” rages Patricia. An interview between Rolling Stone journalist Constance Sack (Malin Akerman) and Stacee inadvertently leads to heartache and Sherrie swallows her pride to dance at The Venus Club owned by Justice (Mary J. Blige).
Rock of Ages opens with an exuberant mash-up of Night Ranger and David Lee Roth. The cast have a ball, not least Brand whose accent wanders the length of the British Isles as his co-stars hit the high notes on Any Way You Want It, Every Rose Has Its Thorn and I Want To Know What Love Is.
Hough is adorable as a naive gal from the Midwest and she harmonises beautifully with Boneta. Cruise embraces the spirit of Axl Rose in his scenes, sparing us only a few blushes in a jewel-encrusted codpiece and leather chaps. It’s a pity that a show-stopping duet on Glee overshadows Hough and Boneta’s climactic rendition of the same song. Evidently there just aren’t enough rabble-rousing classics from the rock pantheon to go around.
Shania Andrews (Lenora Crichlow) lives on a London council estate and trains for the 200 metres with coach Brian (Phil Davis) in Fast Girls. She beats fast-rising Lisa Temple (Lily James) in a qualification race to book her spot at the World Championships. Lisa is incredulous and her father David (Rupert Graves) — a former Olympic gold medallist — exerts even more pressure on his daughter.
Coach Tommy Southern (Noel Clarke) invites Shania to join the relay squad and she gels with 100 metres veteran Trix Warren (Lorraine Burroughs), Belle Newman (Lashana Lynch) and reserve runners Sarah (Dominique Tipper) and Rachel (Hannah Frankson). However, Lisa runs the relay’s anchor leg. Tension intensifies when Shania develops a crush on physiotherapist Carl (Bradley James), who is also the object of Lisa’s affections Fast Girls is a thoroughly engrossing slice of home-grown entertainment that swiftly tethers our affections to Shania so we root for the underdog in a world of corporate sponsorship and shameless nepotism.
Crichlow is an endearing heroine, battling insecurities on and off the racing track, and her co-stars provide solid support. Davis adds flecks of humour as the heroine's unconventional trainer, who is continually distracted by his wayward pooch, Linford.
Race sequences are slickly edited to create the illusion of bodies in motion, straining at speed for the finishing line.