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 for 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.