Monday, June 25, 2012
“Hairspray” director Adam Shankman’s cinematic adaptation of the 2006 Broadway juke box musical “Rock of Ages” (*** OUT OF ****) qualifies as a predictable but entertaining tear-jerker enhanced by an oldies soundtrack of Top-40 hits. Watching this agile musical comedy romance is like attending a concert, except instead of Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Europe warbling their own songs, we get Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Russell Brand singing them. Lip-synching or not, the cast performs the lyrics well enough to make you want to tap your toes, clap your hands, and perhaps join in on the vocalizations. Of course, the old-fashioned, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl back love story that brings everything together is sheer hokum.
Although Tom Cruise is billed last in the opening credits, the “Mission Impossible” superstar steals “Rock of Ages” from young, star-crossed lovers Diego Boneta and Juliana Hough. They represent the usual, dewy-eyed hopefuls who pour into Hollywood each day yearning for the success, fame, and immortality. Unfortunately, despite their sympathetic personalities’, Boneta and Hough emerge as cosmetically captivating cookie-cutter hero and heroine. You know from the get-go they will survive the trials and tribulations that they encounter and come up none the worse for all the wear.
Meantime, Cruise is the only character with shades of depth, and he isn’t afraid to ridicule the larger-than-life character of veteran rocker Stacee Jaxx. Oddly enough, when he stars in his own movies, Cruise is serious, straightforward, and as shallow as the “Rock of Ages” leads. Here, Cruise delivers a performance brimming both with bravado and abasement. In the movies he doesn’t produce, Cruise has fun skewering his image as well as playing outlandish characters. Remember that obnoxious Hollywood producer that he played in the war epic parody “Tropic Thunder?” Cruise is every bit as hilarious there as he was here. Even if you hate him, you’ll enjoy the way that he skewers himself without mercy, while looking cool in a cretinous sort of way.
“Rock of Ages” opens in 1987. Tulsa, Oklahoma, native Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough of “Footloose”) has packed all her autographed classic rock albums—we’re talking vinyl—and has boarded a Greyhound for Hollywood with the dream of becoming a rock and roll starlet. No sooner does our cute heroine hit Hollywood than a low-life hits her. He steals all her albums. A bartender’s assistant, Drew Boley (Diego Boneta of “Mean Girls 2”), consoles her about the loss of her valuables. Later, Diego manages to land her a job at the popular Sunset Strip nightclub called ‘The Bourbon Room.” The owner, Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin of “The Departed”), hires Sherrie against his better judgment. Dennis detests young girls yearning to yowl their way to stardom. Something that he sees in Sherrie prompts him to make an exception. Sherrie assures Dennis that she can waitress with the best.
Meantime, Dennis is struggling to keep the doors of The Bourbon Room open. He owes a mountain of unpaid taxes. Dennis’ right hand man, Lonny (Russell Brand of “Get Him to the Greek”), believes rock and roll will save them. Dennis doesn’t share Lonny’s optimism. Ultimately, Dennis books rock star sensation Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise of “Risky Business”) because the veteran rocker plans to go solo. This engagement will mark Stacee’s last show with his band Arsenal. Dennis and Stacee have known each other from the get-go. Stacee got his start at The Bourbon Club. The news that Stacee Jaxx will appear at The Bourbon Room comes at the same time Los Angeles conservatives are poised to launch a campaign against Dennis' notorious night club. L.A. Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston of TV’s “Breaking Bad”) responds to pressure to sanitize the Sunset Strip. As it turns out, the mayor’s secret weapon is none other than his trophy wife Patricia. Mrs. Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones of “No Reservations”) rallies the churches together to protest against “sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll." Patricia and her fervent supporters turn out in droves to condemn not only The Bourbon Room but also Stacee Jaxx. According to Patricia, Stacee Jaxx spews “sex, hateful music, and sex.” Ostensibly, Patricia abhors the rocker because he seduced her vulnerable roommate at UCLA and took advantage of her.
As the crowds assemble outside, chants and protests mingle in the evening air. Dennis dreams about the mint that he will make until he learns that the act scheduled to open for Stacee Jaxx has bowed out. At the last minute, Dennis agrees to let Drew and his band warm up the house for three songs only. Earlier, Drew had lamented to Sherrie during a romantic encounter at the famous Hollywood sign that he suffered from stage. Fright. Now, he fears the paralysis will strike the next time he climbs on stage. Miraculously, Drew sheds his fears and lights up the crowd, so much so that the man who promotes Stacee Jaxx, Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti of “Shoot’em Up”), wants to immortalize him. At this moment, Drew catches a glimpse of Stacee Jaxx adjusting his jeans as Sherrie turns away from him.
Director Adam Shankman and “Tropic Thunder” scenarist Justin Theroux, original Broadway musical writer Chris D'Arienzo, and “Just Go With It” scribe Allen Loeb never let things slow down during this two-hour plus musical. Indeed, they have made changes. First, Patricia Whitmore replaces the characters of German developers, Hertz Klinemann and son Franz, who wanted to demolish The Bourbon Room. Second, Stacee and Sherrie never have sex. The problem is that "Rock" lacks a genuinely treacherous villain. Meantime, each song punctuates the plot and serves as commentary. The assortment of songs captures the cacophonous 1980s when flamboyant, long-haired rockers ruled. Everything about “Rock of Ages” reeks of nostalgia, especially the way it makes fun of the boy bands. Occasionally, the filmmakers allow a glint of reality, such as when our heroine winds up pole-dancing. The choreography is nimble as well as interpretative. Aside from the rather obvious love story, “Rock of Ages” contains two other romances. Stacee Jaxx plunges for a “Rolling Stone” reporter, and Lonny and Dennis discover why they love to sing duets. “Rock of Ages” celebrates the spirit of rock and roll without wallowing in its decadence.