Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Alec Baldwin, Mary J. Blige, Malin Akerman, and Catherine Zeta-Jones almost manage to escape embarrassing themselves in this dreadful musical set in 1987 and loaded with shallow renditions of songs from the era. Almost.
Sherri Christian (Julianne Hough) is a fresh-faced, apple-cheeked blonde just off the bus from Oklahoma thanks to a grandmother who urged her to get out of that awful Red State and pursue her dreams of being a singer. Now she’s in Hollywood and thanks to a turn of events that only worked in musicals from the 40’s and 50’s, she’s immediately given a waitress job in the center of the music scene on Sunset Boulevard, a club called The Bourbon.
The Bourbon is an obvious stand-in for the iconic Whisky A Go Go, the real-life historical L.A. music landmark that played a vital role in many a legend’s career, including The Doors, Frank Zappa, The Byrds and Alice Cooper. Though much larger, The Bourbon’s interior is almost an exact replicate of the Whisky, which is the only part of the film I found fascinating. Oh, and the perfect replica of Tower Records and the $1.21 gas prices.
The rest is horrid cliché.
Forget the unforgivably cheesy main plot that involves Sherri and her boyfriend’s sudden rise to fame (the movie isn’t even in on the joke) or Zeta-Jones (who looks amazing) as the hypocritical conservative Christian desperate to shut the Bourbon down, you know, because heavy metal music is satanic. The movie is just bad, especially the songs. Apparently the actors all did their own singing, which only makes many of the songs, which weren’t very good to begin with, even worse.
If there’s a bright spot it’s Tom Cruise as a burnt out, sell-out rock god who is in on the joke. His rendition of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” is a legitimate show-stopper.
It’s hard to tell if those behind “Rock of Ages” (which is based on a Broadway musical) intentionally tried to update the wonderfully simplistic musical plots from Hollywood’s golden era into a heavy metal rock musical set during the Reagan years, or if it just turned out that way.
But for all their flaws (though many are absolutely perfect), the best of those classic musicals had tremendous heart, humor, touching romance, immortal stars, and those breathtaking moments of physical and vocal talent during the musical numbers. Those musicals were about delivering escapism, innocence, and moments of pure joy to the customers.
“Rock of Ages” has none of that. It’s only interested in delivering it’s sense of moral superiority over Christians as it shoves sex scenes set in a church in our faces.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC