Plot: Girl. Guy. Love. Gig hair. Jeans with holes. Arena rock. Mix together. Repeat.
As A-list larks go, these are game guys and gals, to be sure. The scenery-chewing Catherine Zeta Jones, fists pumping and pink heels kicking to "Hit me with Your Best Shot," looks like she's teaching a kickboxing class. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand have wonderful chemistry as management of the struggling Bourbon Club, perpetually, somewhat shabbily, and at much cost, "living the rock 'n roll dream."
Baldwin can't sing and he knows it, so he pulls a Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady" and talks instead. Too bad Pierce Brosnan didn't use similar wisdom for his disastrous singing role in "Mamma Mia."
Ingenue stars Julianne Hough (of "Footloose" and "Dancing With the Stars") and the underwhelming but baby- faced Diego Boneta seem to play the crackers to the rest of the cast's pungent cheese. They pull through well enough, but it's hard to imagine either of them having a long-term career at the top of the Hollywood call list. It doesn't help Hough that we see little of the dancing that led her to a two-time "Dancing With the Stars" win.
Director Adam Shankman declared Boneta the next big thing and compared him to Zac Efron and Channing Tatum. He certainly had ample opportunity to shine, but both leads fade into the background when their elders arrive onscreen. Most notably charismatic are the underused powerhouse Mary J. Blige and Tom Cruise, in slow-motion train wreck mode with one of his most interesting performances.
Cruise skewers himself mercilessly as jaded rock jackass Stacee Jaxx, a role that portrays him as a self-obsessed lunatic who blathers in public about alien gods and complains of being misunderstood while barking orders at a pet monkey/bartender trained to fetch him copious amounts of Scotch. He undergoes no epiphany, nor does he express any real redemptive insights.
That's not what this movie is for. As the tagline says, it's "nothin' but a good time." Tom brings that. Sporting nothing but gun tattoos, an impressively toned (nearly 50 year-old) chest and a devil codpiece, he wails and struts onstage like being a rocker is his real job. Not that most hair bands are known for their vocal gymnastics, but he belts a tune with the same aplomb and equal vocal quality to Axl Rose and scores of other mullet-haired cowboy hat-wearing '80s front men.
The idea of a jukebox musical chafes in the first place, what with all the talented musicians and writers out there. One would think inspired new songs and new cinematic ideas would find each other. Other than films like "Meet Me in St. Louis," "Singin' in the Rain," and "Moulin Rouge," critical and popular success for these films are rare.
Blame Broadway. On The Great White Way, hits are now so hard-won, predictability and familiarity are used more and more as pitching points for plays that either reframe famous movies ("Ghost," "Once," "Sister Act") or as in the jukebox musicals, use popular music ("Rock of Ages," "Mamma Mia," "Movin' Out," "Jersey Boys," and "American Idiot") to get folks to shuck the producing bucks—although "Rock of Ages" originally was mounted for Off Broadway…
And how entertaining the original play was is also part of the problem. Why did they have to change anything from the original? "Rock of Ages," the stage musical, had way more teeth. Tongue-in-cheek it was, but it didn't have to pander to the PG-13 ratings guidelines, allowing the leads to be less responsible, the rock god to be even less redeemable, and making the right-wing anti-rock element in the movie superfluous. Other than the fun of watching the A list party hardy on film, nothing is gained in this translation to celluloid.
With regards to the musical numbers, they land one right after the other, with barely a breath between. Whether you like them or the arena rock musical genre in general, you'll be able to sing along with all the selections here. The flimsy material they offer as a plot wouldn't be enough for the shortest '80s jean miniskirt. Still, as with most flamboyant tongue-in-cheek musicals, it makes for a brainless guilty pleasure.
Ten great rock musicals that stand the test of time
- "Rock and Roll High School"
- "Spinal Tap"
- "Viva Las Vegas"
- "The Wall"
- "Jesus Christ Superstar"
- "Hegwig and the Angry Inch"
About this column: Leslie Combemale, aka "Cinema Siren," is a movie-lover and aficionado in Northern Virginia. Alongside Michael Barry, she owns ArtInsights, an animation and film art gallery in Reston Town Center. She has a background in film and art history. She often is invited to present at conventions such as the San Diego Comic Con, where she has been a panelist for The Art of the Hollywood Movie Poster and the Harry Potter Fandom discussion. Visit their gallery online at www.artinsights.com, and see more of her reviews and interviews on www.artinsightsmagazine.com.