“I’m a stripper,” Sherrie Christian ((Julianne Hough), country lass turned fallen angel, confesses to her ex-beau, former rocker Drew Boley (Digeo Bonita).
“I’m in a boy band!” he replies as he waves to his old-school hip-hop regalia of oversized jeans, backwards cap, and ridiculous pastel colors.
She looks down on Hollywood soil in sheer embarrassment for him. Is there a worse fate for a man who loves rock? In the context of “Rock of Ages”, the answer is: nothing.
Originally a Broadway play, “Rock of Ages” takes the glam and devil horns into the realm of movie magic excess and makes it a masterpiece of camp, high drama, and more ’80s rock hits than you can shake a mullet at.
Director Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) envisioned this adaptation as “a movie musical that guys would drag their girlfriends to for a change”.
He succeeds overwhelmingly in that regard as this movie is definitely dude-friendly, especially if the dude remembers the days of Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, and the hair bands of the ’80s.
If only all musicals could be this fun, sexy and tongue-in-cheek, more guys would jump the bandwagon.
The main plot has Julianne Hough shining in her rollercoaster role of innocence lost as Sherrie, the picture-perfect “small town girl” of Journey’s song with her wide-eyed earnestness, signed LP collection, and blonde curls, who arrives in LA in 1987 and falls for Drew, a stage hand at the famed The Bourbon Room.
Their romance blossoms almost instantly, after he gets her a job at the place where many heads have banged and even more ears have been blown by the shred. Unfortunately, it fizzles soon after the lovebirds encounter the eccentric, larger-than-life rock star Stacee Jaxx.
Drew mistakes the sight of a disheveled and half-undressed Sherrie leaving Jaxx’s dressing room as testament to coitus. While any true fan would have screamed “Hall pass!” upon seeing their girl quite possibly bumping uglies with the rock star they both adore, Drew instead gives Sherrie the cold shoulder. They break up soon after.
Without a doubt, the centerpiece of the movie is Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, the self-indulgent soon-to-be-former lead singer of Arsenal. He totes around groupies, bodyguards, and a pet baboon named Hey Man in both totemic affectation and concurrent mirror to his mental weather.
He also touches women’s breasts to feel their heart, speaks in non-sequiturs, and becomes a living Dionysus on stage with his revolver hip tats pointing down to his groin.
After his band breaks up, he struggles to reignite his career while trying hard to feign indifference and disinterest. Sometimes he even succeeds. Cruise inhabits his role so thoroughly you might want to purchase an attack baboon after watching the movie.
A fusion of Axl Rose, Sammy Hagar and Jon Bon Jovi with some Brett Michaels swirled into the mix, Cruise’s Jaxx is not only funny and bombastic, his vocal range also boasts four octaves.
No kidding. You can even hear it on the OST where Cruise performs Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”, Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Paradise City”, and duets with Hough on The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like A Hurricane”.
The other major stand-out performance is by Catherine Zeta-Jones. Playing the LA mayor’s wife, Patricia Whitmore, a Tipper Gore caricature who embodies the polar extreme of morality against the decadence of rock ‘n’ roll.
Then there’s Malin Ackerman as Constance Sack, the sexy Rolling Stone journo who rekindles Jaxx’s spirit, Bryan Cranston (of “Breaking Bad” fame) as Mayor Whtimore, and Paul Giamatti as Paul Gill, the shark of a manager who both feeds and withers his talents while raking in the big bucks.
Like a glam song, this movie is far from perfect, however. For one thing, there are too many divergent side stories that have little to no impact on the main narrative.
Case in point is Mary J. Blige’s role as Justice, the manager of the strip club where Sherrie finds herself post-breakup. You’ll suspect the part is there just so we could watch the R&B diva take on some ’80s rock. To be fair, her powerful voice certainly shreds harder than the rest.
More engaging is the subplot featuring gay lovers Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (British comedian Russel Brand) as beleaguered co-owners of The Bourbon Room. Baldwin and Brand provide impeccable acting and welcome hilarity. Their duet of the REO Speedwagon classic “Can’t Fight This Feeling” is an absolute hoot and a half.
Speaking of which, REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin provides one of several celebrity cameos by musical stars from the ’80s, along with the likes of Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme, Night Ranger’s Joel Hoekstra, Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, and, yes, even Debbie Gibson.
Certainly, “Rock of Ages” is an enjoyable period romp where big hair and big riffs all elevate the power of rock to the nth degree.