Tom Cruise is the reason to see “Rock of Ages,” the movie version of a Broadway jukebox musical built around 1980s hair-band hits.
First glimpsed in a bejeweled black-leather codpiece and not much else, Cruise is a sight to see as burned out rocker Stacee Jaxx, who has turned hedonism into a fine art.
Whether he's groping the ever-present bevy of groupies, draining yet another bottle of Scotch, inspiring his pet monkey to new acts of terrorism, or making loopy small talk with his sleazy manager (“Have these people even met themselves?”), Cruise is fully committed to the role. He's one of the few characters in this over-the-top tunefest you can believe.
He's jaw-droppingly good belting out hits like “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “I Wanna Know What Love Is” in a very pleasing tenor voice. And he has all the pelvis-grinding, mike-stand-waving, hair-tossing moves to go with them.
But despite an improved script that departs quite a lot from the Broadway version, director Adam Shankman (“Hairspray” musical movie) faces an uphill battle turning a weak story and cardboard characters into something more than period-piece snark used as glue between hit tunes.
By the way, “More Than Words” is not a 1980s hit, no matter how nicely Julianne Hough coos it.
Stereotypes abound. There's the young small-town innocent, Sherrie (Hough), who dreams of making it big as a singer in L.A., only to have her suitcase stolen just after getting off the bus.
There's the handsome bartender, Drew (Diego Boneta, too fresh-faced to fit a hard-rock role), who rescues her and gets her a job waitressing at the legendary Bourbon Room on Sunset Strip, only to get his heart stomped on.
Catherine Zeta-Jones chews scenery as a newly invented character, the reformist wife of the Los Angeles' mayor (philanderer Bryan Cranston), whom you just know has a dark secret in her past as she tries to close the Bourbon Room.
Alec Baldwin has fun as Dennis, the cynical, broke owner of the Bourbon Room, and Russell Brand is his wisecracking sidekick, Lonny. Mary J. Blige belts out a few anthems as owner of a strip bar who takes Sherrie in when love hits the rocks. Least believable, Malin Ackerman is a Rolling Stone reporter who lays a little truth on Stacee Jaxx. Her character is also new to the piece.
Jaxx is supposed to be the Bourbon Room's salvation, as his band does one last gig before he goes solo. But sleazy manager Paul (Paul Giamatti, rising above stereotype with sheer acting skill) will do anything to line his pockets.
Yeah, it's surprising how well Giamatti and Baldwin and especially Cruise sing, and the fresh-faced romantic leads are appealing.
But the movie stretches on too long for the thin story, and the gag of old songs in new contexts wears off.
An opening scene in which Sherrie starts singing on her all-night bus ride to L.A., only to have the other passengers join in, had a preview crowd snickering early. It's like that scene in “The Sound of Music” when the baron's party guests all sing and wave “Good night” on cue. And it gets the same eye roll here.
Still, fun is fun, and “Rock of Ages” has its share of laughs. The nostalgia-inducing hits will please a certain demographic. And Cruise will leave most people thinking they got their money's worth.
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