Taking place in the hair-metal heyday of 1987, Rock of Ages jumps from Broadway to the big screen, and lands on its face with a thud. If it's not the year's most misbegotten big-studio project, I don't wish to be exposed to what is.
Talking and singing in a baby voice akin to nails on a chalkboard, not to mention testicles in a vise, Hough's Sherrie arrives in L.A. with a suitcase full of records and dreams of being a vocalist. No sooner has she stepped off the bus than she lands a waitressing gig at The Bourbon Club, where she falls for a bar back (Diego Boneta, Mean Girls 2), who also has stars in his eyes and returns her admiration.
All's swell until cock-rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol) shows up to play his last concert with his band before going solo. He grabs Sherrie's breast, and misunderstandings ensue for two hours. Every few minutes — and sometimes sooner — a character bursts into a big '80s hit and gets the whole room a-singin' and a-dancin', whether that room be a church or a Tower Records.
Foreigner, Van Halen, Journey, Night Ranger, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Poison: It's not as if I liked these songs when they dominated airwaves and MTV of my youth, but in the hands of director Adam Shankman (Hairspray), they're neutered and pussified, reduced to objects of Glee.
That's hardly the film's problem. Its kiss of death is simply how stupid it all seems. I admit to enjoying a well-crafted, well-built musical, but this is an exercise in karaoke nostalgia, in which scenes are held together not with story, but liberal sprays of Aqua-Net. The tone is all over the place, with each turn of it wrong, best exemplified by the fact that a member of Jaxx's entourage is a baboon in studded leather.Just because Cruise commits to give it his all doesn't mean he's good; Malin Akerman (Wanderlust) gives a more convincing performance as a Rolling Stone reporter, and that's figuring in Jaxx's donning of assless chaps. I felt embarrassed for most involved parties, but particularly the truly talented actors like:
• Bryan Cranston (TV's Breaking Bad) for being spanked in his tighty-whities;
• Paul Giamatti (Win Win) for his most unfortunate ponytail;
• Alec Baldwin (TV's 30 Rock) for not only having to wear a mop mullet, but to share his scenes — and romantic at that — with Russell Brand (Arthur); and
• Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago) for having to perform such dumb and unimaginative choreography. For example, while belting out Pat Benatar's "Hit Me with Your Best Shot," she and her fellow uptight, anti-rock, Tipper Gore-esque housewives make their hands into guns — the type of literal pantomime many a tween and teen did back in the day of the song's chart climb. (File under: "My kid could paint that.")
The Blu-ray offers the option of watching an "Extended Edition" with, per the box, "MORE SONGS MORE DANCING MORE LAUGHS," but I suspect it just boils down to more minutes: 13, to be exact. I stuck with the theatrical cut, which, at 123 minutes, is already a work of wretched excess.
No running time can improve the horrendous performance of its lead. Ms. Hough sure can dance. But why'd she have to speak? —Rod Lott
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