'Rock of Ages' is all about the music

June 15, 2012 

Rock of Ages flashes back to 1987 Los Angeles where wanna-be singers Julianne Hough’s, Sherrie Christian and Diego Boneta’s, Drew Boley meet at the Sunset Strip’s hottest hotspot, the Bourbon Room.

Love blooms to kick ass ballads.

I worked as a disk jockey in top-40 radio in the 1980s. Everything about rock music then was larger than life. Big-voiced, big-haired singers belched out hit after hit backed by loud but melodic guitars and drummers with double-bass drums and massive kits. The music was a tad repetitious but when it was good, it was really good.

The era was fairly superficial. Pot, booze and cocaine fueled the music and the life style. Party animals and self indulgence ruled. Rock of Ages perfectly defines that shallowness.

The flimsy, wisp of a plot is packed with too many characters and their stories stay on the surface. They exist merely as an excuse to whip through some of the era’s best over-produced and overplayed hits. Director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) teams with the Broadway musical’s writer Chris D’Arienzo and wraps his sparse story with great versions of classic hits from Journey, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, White Snake, Asia, Starship, Quiet Riot and others.

Some of the most creative work comes from medleys like Juke Box Hero blended with the anthem, I Love Rock n’ Roll. Or We Built this City and We’re Not Gonna Take It.

Hough (Footloose), Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman (Wanderlust, Paul Giamatti, Mary J. Blige and others do their own tunes. The actors — obviously — can act. The singers hoping to be actors can’t. Neither Blige nor Boneta are that convincing. And as one of the two main characters, you’d think Boneta’s part would be filled by someone who can also act.

Apparently Justin Bieber wasn’t available. Just kidding.

Part of the plot, however, has Boneta’s Drew stylin’ with a Bieber-like short doo and doing tunes similar those done by the popular teenie-bop pop groups Backstreet Boys and Menudo.

That’s probably more detail than you really need. Forget the plot. Really. This is all about the music and everyone — including Cruise, Baldwin and Brand — can sing. Not surprisingly, Cruise is the best actor of the group. What is surprising is that Cruise — other than Mary J. Blige — is the best singer.

While his character is not close to original or even interesting, Cruise, as Stacee Jaxx cruises through the film perfectly capturing the essence, style and mindset of the 1980s pampered rock star. In private Jaxx is a total, self-absorbed mess. On stage he’s electric. Cruise prances, preens and prowls and holding the stand high, practically makes love to the microphone.

Just like the real deal.

If the now classic lip-sync from Risky Business hadn’t launched a super star acting career, Cruise had a bright future as a crooner.

Those that grew up with the songs Cruise sings, and the songs done by the other actors will find big smiles planted on their faces. You will likely not be able to resist the urge to sing along. But that’s rock. We want to sing along. That was true for rock of that age and it is true for rock of all ages.

Enjoy this one. It’s a blast.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

Director: Adam Shankman

Writers: Chris D’Arienzo from his Broadway play, Justin Theroux, Allan Loeb

Stars: Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta,

Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Paul Giamatti, Mary J. Blige

Rated PG-13 for mature themes, sex, drugs & rock and roll. It’s playing at Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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