The old maxim goes that if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all.
So before diving into my review of "Rock of Ages," the all-star movie based on the Broadway musical of the same name, I'll start with something nice: Tom Cruise and Paul Giamatti were good, and the '80s greatest hits soundtrack was enjoyable. Oh, and the monkey's pretty funny.
But the movie lost me when Cruise began earnestly singing "I Want to Know What Love Is" to Malin Ackerman's, um, personal region.
Breaking into an '80s power ballad mash-up duet is the evidence of true "love" in this movie, which follows several characters connected by the Bourbon Room, a legendary Los Angeles bar and concert venue that's fallen on hard times in 1987. Although the de facto main storyline is a budding romance between small-town girl Sherri (Julianne Hough, of "Dancing with the Stars" fame) and city boy Drew (Diego Boneta, "90210"), Cruise is obviously the main attraction as Stacee Jaxx, a rock legend who's let fame, fortune and who-knows-what-all controlled substances go to his head.
As Jaxx prepares to play the last show with his band Arsenal at the Bourbon, a group of church ladies led by the mayor's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones, "The Legend of Zorro") are plotting to shut down the iconic site.
In most movies in which the uptight establishment clashes with the purveyors of rock 'n' roll or some other culture-shifting movement, you're generally not supposed to side with the uptight establishment. But while it's difficult to root for the moralists in "Rock of Ages," given their expected hypocrisy, you'd be hard-pressed to contradict their basic assertion that the lifestyle advocated by Jaxx and the Bourbon is about nothing more than random sex, excessive drinking and other forms of debauchery.
Rock of Ages
- Starring: Julianne Hough, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones.
- Directed by: Adam Shankman.
- Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking and language.
The film depicts a culture where groping or otherwise mistreating women is generally frowned upon, unless you're famous or giving them money, in which case it's empowering. I kept looking for some evidence that Bourbon owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"), his righthand man Lonny (Russell Brand, "Arthur") or anyone on their side of the argument aspired to something more, but other than Drew and Sherri really liking music, there wasn't much to work with.
The acting is a mixed bag, as is the singing. The only really distinctive voice is provided by singer Mary J. Blige as gentleman's club owner Justice. Cruise doesn't do poorly, but once the novelty of Tom Cruise singing wears off, it's pretty mundane.
There is more to his overall performance than novelty, though. He plays Jaxx with more depth than is apparent when he initially appears on screen.
Hough and Boneta look more like people trying really hard to portray young musicians in love than two young musicians sincerely in love. And despite the obvious differences between the lifestyles and beliefs of Dupree and Baldwin's Jack Donaghy on "30 Rock," you're still pretty much watching Jack in a wig.
Giamatti ("Win Win") is great as always as Jaxx's long-suffering manager Paul. One of the things the movie does accomplish is a reversal of their roles.
Having never seen the original musical, I don't know how faithful an adaptation the film provides. Perhaps the songs are supposed to be the main attraction, but the movie comes across more as a mix tape with familiar faces and vulgar visuals than a celebration of the music.