"This place is about to become a sea of sweat, ear-shattering music and puke."
Continuing Hollywood's long and steady trip down memory lane comes the nostalgia-soaked adaptation of the smash hit Broadway show, Rock of Ages.
And at this leg of the expedition, we arrive at the year 1987. In the era of big dreams and bigger hair, director/choreographer Adam Shankman (of So You Think You Can Dance fame) introduces us to two young star-crossed lovers Drew (Diego Boneta) and Sherrie (Julianne Hough), struggling bartenders at The Bourbon Room from Anytown U.S.A. who hope to make it big on the Hollywood stage one day. But first, they've got a series of karaoke mash-ups to get through.
With carefully choreographed and meticulously lip synced song and dance numbers in the streets, at the bar, on a bus, and anywhere they can grab a hairbrush and pretend it's a mic, the two declare their love for each other and rock and roll by performing monster ballads from the greatest hair bands, including Journey, White Snake and Night Ranger.
While they're off singing for their supper, strapped Bourbon Room bar owner Dennis Dupree (a long-tressed Alec Baldwin) is desperately trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents, while downing his sorrows in a bottle of scotch. To make matters worse, goody goody First Lady of Tinseltown, Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is threatening to shut the fledgling bar down for good, citing "sacrilegious" acts like lewd dancing, alcohol-guzzling and loud music. Dennis' hand man, Lonny (snugly played by Russell Brand), tries to lighten the mood by offering witty quips in his perpetual drunken stupor, which actually does work a few times. This is all done in a few more awesomely contrived power ballads that will effectively make you want to belt out a few tunes along with them, of course.
In the midst of Dennis' woes, and after a few more musical mash-ups chronicling the story of our two lovers, Tom Cruise shakes things up when he enters the scene as rock god Stacee Jaxx in full-on rock star garb: guyliner, mullet, stank attitude, booze breath, and cradling a scantily-clad groupie. That's around the time when things are kicked into high gear.
With one show-stopping performance of the classic Def Leppard song "Pour Some Sugar On Me," Cruise grabs the reigns of the movie and never lets it go. He, along with the equally transformed Malin Akerman (who plays smitten rock journalist Constance Sack), steals the show with bitchin' rock romance made in heaven.
But, with the exception of Cruise and Akerman, the acting overall left much to be desired. Hough's impossibly wide-eyed Sherrie is annoyingly charming, but annoying nonetheless. However, that's soothed a bit when she shares scenes with Boneta, who is remarkably charismatic onscreen. He brings the right amount of chutzpah and balls to play a rock prince who could share a stage with the larger than life Jaxx.
R&B singer Mary J. Blige brings some legitimacy to the film as strip club owner Justice Charlier, performing hits like Pat Benatar's "Shadows of the Night" with ease, but with the spoken line delivery of someone who's still trying to find her footing as an actress. Meanwhile, Zeta-Jones is still reminding people that what she really wants to do is sing. Her performance in the movie is puzzling not because it good (it's decent), but you just don't imagine her in this kind of role.
Not like you picture someone like, say, Brand in a role as a coked out sidekick. You really never know where Lonny ends and where Brand begins...But his scenes with the almost unrecognizable Baldwin are certainly memorable, if anything.
Probably the most perfect casting is that of Paul Giamatti, who plays Jaxx's slimy manager Paul Gill. Giamatti's weasly voice alone may prohibit him from playing any other type of character than one who always has an agenda, and it ain't ever yours.
Even though its finest moments all boil down to well-intentioned, high energy karaoke numbers, and its script (co-written by Justin Theroux) left more cheese in the recipe than what was called for, Rock of Ages is still great fun. Really, it's like a longer, louder version of Glee or American Idol, but with actors who can't sing rather than singers who can't act. Plus, it rocks you like a hurricane.
Rock of Ages hits theaters Friday.