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FILM REVIEW: Rock of Ages

Categories: Movies

As the American Idolization of pop culture continues, Rock of Ages hoovers up a decade (or so) of hair metal into a karaoke sing-a-long. It's a movie that will make '80s rock fans long for the authenticity of Twisted Sister.

The problem with too many movie musicals is they come with excuse built into the experience. Sure the acting/plot/set-design/characters are risibly terrible, but (say it with me) "It's a musical."

Yet, some musicals are cinema at its finest; the ultimate combination of sound, vision and motion. When it all comes together and your senses are engaged, you get pinpricks on the back of your neck. Think of Gene Kelly splashing in Singing in Rain. The tango from Strictly Ballroom. Or my personal (and admittedly) particular favourite, the dancing trashmen of Romance and Cigarettes. (James Gandolfini and Christopher Walken singing, how can you go wrong?)

And so what would it be fair to ask from Rock of Ages? A hint of the rank of excess that hung in air during the decade that gave us Poison and Skid Row and more? On that level Rock of Ages falls flat. Cast with fresh-faced newbies, this is rock movie about as threatening as Justin Bieber.

Julianne Hough and Diego BonetaJulianne Hough, left, as Sherrie Christian and Diego Boneta as Drew Boley in the movie musical Rock of Ages. (David James/Warner Bros. Pictures )

The story, Sherrie Christian (that's her name) arrives in Los Angeles from Oklahoma with a song in her heart and a note from her dear ol' grammy. Julianne Hough has the young feathered curls of a Heather Locklear and Daisy Duke's trashy sister's wardrobe. Soon she's drawn to Drew (Diego Boneta), the barkeep at the Bourbon Room, with dreams deeper than his perfectly dimpled chin. They sing duets to each other in Tower Records and Drew gets Sherrie a job at the Bourbon Room.

The joint is buzzing over the arrival of Stacee Jaxx, an Axel Rose/Steven Tyler amalgam wearing rhinestone-encrusted demon faces as codpieces and played by none other than Tom Cruise.

And if you're worried now, let me tell you Cruise is just about the best thing about Rock of Ages. It's an over-the-top role, but, as always, Cruise holds nothing back, self-actualizing himself into veritable rock phenom. It's ridiculous enough to enjoy, like a slimmed-down version of his Les Grossman from Tropic Thunder.

While Hough and Boneta run through their book of David Lee Roth power moves, Catherine Zeta-Jones arrives as the anti-rock villain -- the mayor's wife who is determined to shut the Bourbon down. Another paper-thin part, but who cares, there's more choreography in her church ladies rendition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot than the rest of the movie combined.

Malin Akerman and Tom CruiseMalin Akerman, left, as Constance Sack and Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx in a demented duet that works. (David James/Warner Bros. Pictures)

The list of sins of Rock of Ages is long -- Mary J. Blige wasted in the role of owner of a strip club; Paul Giamatti's bolo tie; the bizarre casting of Russell Brand; the reanimation of the early '90s earworm More Than Words. So one must appreciate the few moments when the cast rises above the material.

There's an absurd pleasure in Cruise's demented duet/love scene with Malin Akerman as the proverbial hot girl hiding behind reporter's glasses (sung to the tune of I Want to Know What Love Is.) Rivaled closely by Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand's own love connection sung to I Can't Fight this Feeling Anymore.

Still none of that makes up for the fact that Rock of Ages takes one of the most creative periods in recent music history and substitutes style for soul.

RATING: 2 out of 5

Tom Cruise as Stacee JaxxTom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx is credible as the rock phenom. (David James/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Tags: 80s, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Diego Boneta, Julianne Hough, Malin Akerman, musical, Paul Giamatti, rock, Rock of Ages, Russell Brand, Tom Cruise

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