Music purists are a tough crowd to please. Nothing gets musicians more worked up than debating Bob Dylan acoustic or electric, old Beatles vs. “White” album Beatles, the merit of 80s keyboard pop or what truly defines Punk music. Here’s another coal to the fire: when youngsters give their karaoke best to classic tunes that defined a generation. This is where I come in. I never watch American Idol because I can’t stand to hear some squeaky voiced kid who doesn’t have a learner’s permit but feels confident enough to butcher a song 50 years older than them. Same for Glee which, if you take away the High School Musical plotting and worthy social messages, isn’t much different from Kids Incorporated.
For some reason, though, I dug Rock of Ages, the movie adaptation of the smash Broadway musical. Like many high concept pop-rock musicals, it has a plot that’s thinner than a concert ticket stub and strung together from rock songs. When you have a character named “Sherrie,” rest assured a Steve Perry song is right around the corner. For most, this will be a seriously entertaining night out at the movies, though even open minded rock fans will cringe when they hear what Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand do to “I Love Rock and Roll.”
Describing the plot requires listing cliches: Sherrie (“cuz you shoulda been gooone!”), played by Julianne Hough, moves to Los Angeles in hopes of pursuing a singing career. Faster than you can say Coyote Ugly, she’s broke and desperate. A Bieber-haired musician named Drew (Diego Boneta) falls hard for Sherrie and gets her a job at a flailing music club and concert venue, run by Baldwin’s shaggy haired entrepreneur (it takes place in 1987, so everyone in the cast is shaggy haired). Next thing you know, Sherrie is smitten with the boozed up, sex god rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) and finds her twinkly eyed romance with Drew falling on hard times. Everybody now, “Every rose has it’s thooooorn…”
Directed by Adam Shankman in the same pretention-free, winking way he helmed the movie musical of Hairspray, Rock of Ages almost never takes itself seriously, teases the musical genre and wants to make you laugh a lot and succeeds heartily. The low point is the lover’s spat, which makes the movie feel longer than it already is.
Boneta has a strong voice but isn’t a good enough actor to make us care about his cornball character. Even worse is Hough, who isn’t an actress and, with her Britney Spears on helium voice, should never be allowed anywhere near a song not playing on Radio Disney.
Even with the central love story and the main leads sucking the air out of the room, the all-star cast does the heavy lifting and puts on a fantastic show. Catherine Zeta-Jones is a riot as a conservative politician who sings and dances to Pat Benatar, Baldwin and Russell share the film’s funniest duet and then, there’s Mr. Cruise, who brilliantly embodies a fictionalized Axel Rose, rocks hard in the concert scenes and is the best thing about this movie.
Cruise’s performance is at a different level than the rest of this cheesy musical, which is funny enough but would vanish from memory without him. Cruise and Malin Ackerman’s raunchy duet of a Foreigner song will have you howling and flaring your cigarette lighters at the same time.
Rock of Ages is just for laughs but Cruise’s amazing performance will make you weep even harder for that Guns and Roses reunion.
Rock of Ages
★ ★ ★
Rated PG 13/123 Min.