Rock of Ages

Directed by Adam Shankman

"Rock of Ages," the long-run Broadway jukebox musical set to beloved 1980s power bubble gum ballads and demographic-cohort anthems, takes place in the '80s, when bands were still found in the smoke-wreathed clubs downtown, in CBGB's or along Los Angeles' Sunset Strip. No CDs or instant call-up of music that played subliminally in your iPod zonked-out consciousness 24/7. In times when record emporia were places to scumble through racks of LPs. Remember Tower Records?

Set in LA, 1987, rocker Drew (Diego Boneta) and ingénue songstrice Sherrie (Julianne Hough) are two new starry hopefuls chasing their (never before heard-of Hollywood-make-it-big-in-music) dreams in the City of Cynicism. When they meet, these two pluperfect examples of give-me-a-break, it's amour at first meet, though their romance will face a series of hurdles and setbacks. Yawn.

The film is a not-humorous graft of affectionate smirking homage and snarkily subsumed copycat for such icons as Journey, Foreigner, Guns N' Roses and Pat Benatar. It features such bastions of humility as Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones and music-sirenista Hough, attractive young talent Boneta and the ever-commercial skeevy agent played by Paul Giamatti. Almost unrecognizable as a philandering, masochistic husband, also a secret cuckold, is the intense actor Bryan Cranston, who has won Emmy plaudits for his TV persona as a drug-manufacturing chemistry prof, in Breaking Bad. Mary J. Blige's strip-club owner, who hires the perky Hough to "waitress" as she struggles to make it in Hollywood, does not exist at all in the stage play, like Zeta-Jones' character. Even in the film, one can't really see a reason for Blige's inflated role. One sign the script will be unreal: The minute Hough arrives in Hollywood, her suitcase is snatched by a sharky passer-by. Bloomy Hough frowns for a nanosecond, then proceeds to wear dozens of wardrobe changes from no money and no luggage.

I write "not humorous" because, aside from a very few visual pokes, such as Tom Cruise's bejeweled dragon codpiece, self-adulatory tats and tuchis-cutout chaps, and scruffy Alec Baldwin's mockup of a discovery I-have-feelings-for-him duet with over-the-top Brit Russell Brand, there is little to make anyone with a gamma-plus IQ laugh. Still, Baldwin and Brand are at least smile-worthy for going along so gamely.

The songs are of course winners, but the production is 'way over-tweaked, over-teased, over-something'ed. There does not appear to be a genuine emotion in the entire 2 hours. In the play, BTW, Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Tipper Gore-like scold does not exist. And Tom Cruise's role as the hyper-sexualized, tattoo'ed louche druggie Stacee Jaxx has a role no bigger than child-killer Casey Anthony's post-legal popularity in the stage play, like the energetic and talented Cath Zeta-J, who does her best with a singer/dancer yet still hackneyed role.

Whoever the high-priced talent, the film is like a two-polished speech: There is nothing fresh, nothing surprising. It is a stylized caricature. We've seen it all before, and we liked it not that much the first two dozen times.

The Cruise turn is at least amazingly seductive, more pronounced in his erotic squalor and vocal excess than his "Magnolia" (1999) huckster. His bevy of half-dressed bimbos and his half-cocked sensibility are more of the same: What Hollywood erzatz think a hot time consists of. And there might be truth to the blitzed-out druggie stupor and the lack of ethical dimension. He has a particularly libido-drenched interlude with a 'prim' Malin Ackerman, a reporter for Rolling Stone, to Foreigner fave, "I Want to Know What love Is." She never comes across as anything other than a comely starlet barely managing to keep her knees together, not a reporter from anything. But who cares?

Tulsa Sherrie befriends a sweet barristo name of Drew (Boneta), as a troupe of disapproving housewives protest 'filth' outside the Bourbon club where it all happens. Zeta-Jones's "Thriller" swivels–in a bravura production number of Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," in a church, no less–exemplify fleeting amusements that provide an otherwise-becalmed exercise in overproduction momentary lift. (Others arrive courtesy of Baldwin and Brand, as well as Cruise and Malin Ackerman, whose libidinous duet of Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" is staged for goofy indulgence more than explicit humpty-rumpty.) Throughout, sartorial excess, audial excess, booty excess.

Director Adam Shankman makes the camp and kitsch pile on for the demographic aimed at, but it is hardly worth the popcorn. "Rock of Ages" is chockablock treacly in add-on dead-ends, predictable snafus and theatrical numbers that are all too obviously pickups from the stage show. It goes on and on, per the trigger Journey song. And more than anything else, the word vulgar comes up as the aptest adjective for the entire endeavor.

As much fun as it is to watch Cruise, Giamatti, Cranston and Brand/Baldwin self-deflate at their own typical personae, "RoA" jumps the shark rather early, and never achieves the deft humor, release or gaiety it strives so sweatily to attain.

And if you're of the exeunt from Egypt faith, utilizing the name of a timeless Hebraic paean to immortality and perseverance seems a bit uncalled-for, too, you ask me.

Lots of sexual innuendo, pole dancing, drinking, drugging and profanity.





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