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Tom Cruise rocks ‘Rock of Ages,’ but rest of this 80’s mashup crashes the party


A jukebox musical, ode to power ballads, big hair, and cheesy 80’s superficiality, Rock of Ages makes its sputtering debut from stage to screen this weekend. It features more overproduced singing than a Britney Spears concert, and a glaring lack of fun considering how bouncy the source material it is. There’s also a strung out Tom Cruise crooning an auto-tuned version of “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

Yes, welcome to suck. Tom Cruise in 'Rock of Ages' photo: Salon.com

This all is surprising and disappointing, considering that director Adam Shankman brought such vitality to his 2007 film version of Hairspray. Shankman is far up to the task here, resulting in a long, clunky mish-mash of 80’s hits in search of a purpose.

Ok, so there is a story, but blink and you’ll miss it. Rock of Ages follows the paper thin journey of Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta), as they fall in love and try to make a name for themselves in the business during the edge of rock circa 1987.

Sherrie comes in from out of town to materialize her hopes and dreams, and lands a waitress job at the once infamous Bourbon Room in Los Angeles. There, she meets and falls in love with Drew, who is a barback under Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), the owner of the establishment. He’s joined by his eccentric, foul mouthed sidekick Lonny (Russell Brand).

Admist all this dull conflict, the Bourbon Room prepares for the arrival of Stacee Jaxx (Cruise), a boozing, aging rocker who Dennis hopes will put them back on the map with a sell-out performance. However, Jaxx’s sleazy manager Gill (Paul Giamatti) has other plans to pocket the cash. When the rocker grows even more unwieldy, Gill recruits Drew to take his place and be the next big name in rock music.

All of this could take up around 10 minutes of screen time. Luckily (or not) there’s practically two hours of music to move it all along. The trouble is, the wall-to-wall music, which runs the gamut from Pat Benatar to Twisted Sister, doesn’t serve to propel the thin plot at all, so each number almost exists on its own plane. The result is a choppy mess without any flow.

There’s also precious little choreography here, with many of the numbers just featuring characters singing through overly manufactured, blaring versions of 80’s classics. Shankman hits the bull’s-eye a few times, once with a red-hot rendition of “Any Way you Want it,” but most of the time it’s very flat.

The performances are mostly troubling. Hough, who showed sexiness, spunk, and even some range in last year’s Footloose remake, is totally lost here. Her voice is not terrible, but hardly suited for rock, and her tone is far too squeaky and high. Boneta is better, but still sounds like he belongs in a boy band (a characteristic that’s unintentionally paralleled later in the film.) Catherine Zeta Jones shows up basically in two scenes as a staunch conservative, one of them involving a bizarre cover of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” set in a church.

Then there’s Cruise. Painted fingernails, assless chaps, and bare-chested, he’s clearly going for broke here in a good way. The actor’s singing is impressive, but dubious considering the possible studio alterations that may have occurred. Still, he gives his depthless character a dark and depraved arc that’s pretty mesmerizing all the same.

In the end, Rock of Ages more or less resembles Mamma Mia!- another jukebox musical that leaped on the screen a few years back. Both of those films shoehorned a senseless plot into a vast smorgasbord of popular music. Rock of Ages does manage to be a little better than the former, but for a movie so reliant on the music, it should rock the house. Instead, this film is more Glee than Def Leppard.    

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

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Tom Cruise photo: salon.com

poster: us.shalomlife.com