'Rock of Ages': Broadway glam rock tribute stumbles on screen

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | by: Mat DeKinder


A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to catch the touring production of "Rock of Ages" when it came through the Fox Theater, fully knowing that a movie version was not far behind.

I really dug the show for what it was, an 80s time-warp, jukebox-musical that served up a smorgasbord of hard-rock classics from the hair-band era.

It was easy to forgive the paper-thin plot and characters so broad they made Def Leppard seem deep, thanks to the thrill of live music and the commitment of the cast to the silly, good-natured vibe of the show.

Because of what made the show a blast on stage couldn't really be replicated on screen and because it has been virtually impossible in the past 30 years for any musical that originated on Broadway to successfully make the transition to film, I held out little hope for the movie version of "Rock of Ages."

Unfortunately, most of my concerns proved to be valid, and for a movie critic not being happy about being right is some foreign territory to be sure.

But even though "Rock of Ages" doesn't really work as a movie, it does boast several enjoyable moments thanks to a gung-ho cast and the show's biggest star: the music.

The plot is your standard boy-meets-girl story populated on the side with an array of colorful characters.

Set in Los Angeles in 1987, two out-of-town kids meet and fall in love while working at The Bourbon Room, a seedy-yet-legendary club on L.A.'s famed Sunset Strip.

Sherrie (Julianne Hough, who starred in the "Footloose" remake) is a small-town girl from Oklahoma and Drew (Diego Boneta, best known from the reboot of "90210") works as a bartender but hopes to one day make it big with his band.

A secondary plotline involves the owner of the Bourbon Room, Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin, showing some decent vocal range and ability to pull off the long-haired-wig look), his spaced-out, right-hand-man Lonny (a surprisingly tolerable Russell Brand) and their attempts to save the club from the crusading and conservative wife of the mayor (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones).

Everything goes into a state of upheaval when The Bourbon Room hosts a concert by super-duper mega-star Stacee Jaxx, as played by Tom Cruise. The way Jaxx's character is used winds up illustrating the movie's overarching flaws.

In the stage version, Jaxx is a secondary character who is so comically decadent and reprehensible that he is beyond redemption.

Cruise nails the comically decadent part as his Jaxx oozes spaced-out sex appeal while he swills booze with his pet baboon named Hey Man. He even boasts a great stage presence and completely sells the "Stacee Jaxx: Rock God" persona.

The problem is, a little Stacee Jaxx goes a long way and he dominates entire stretches of the movie. And because Cruise contractually stipulates he can never play an unlikeable character without a signed personal note from Ben Stiller, Jaxx gets a completely unearned shot at redemption in the form of Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Malin Akerman).

There are a handful of solid laughs in "Rock of Ages" and the inoffensive direction of movie-musical veteran Adam Shankman keeps things moving between the lively musical numbers.

I enjoyed myself while watching this movie, but unless you have a personal connection to '80s rock, don't cringe when people inexplicably burst into song and are a baboon enthusiast (guilty on all counts) then this is not the film for you.

"Rock of Ages" is rated PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking and language.

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