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Hair-Rock Heaven 

'Rock of Ages' is a mildly enjoyable bit of fluff—but Tom Cruise is amazing

With his scaling of the tallest building in the world for last year's Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, and now his crazy-good turn as singer Stacee Jaxx in movie-musical Rock of Ages, Tom Cruise has transformed himself into Hollywood's greatest stuntman.

It took big nuts to propel himself off of the Burj Khalifa tower in that harrowing, all-time-classic sequence, and now he has learned to sing and play guitar for his latest flick. It's like he's going down a list of crazy stuff to do in movies, and he's picking the items off, one by one. He's not just crooning soft ballads here; he's belting out some of the biggest crap rock of the '80s with a voice that is some sort of blessed convergence of Axl Rose and Vince Neil. Cruise can sing!

His magnificent rock act is surrounded by a movie that is mildly fun, although his performance is, by far, the best thing about it. Adapted from the Broadway play and directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray), Rock of Ages features a "girl comes from a small town to make it in showbiz" story that has been told 1,000 times. However, it has never before featured Tom Cruise in a fur coat accompanied by a rambunctious, well-dressed baboon.

Sherrie Christian (a likable Julianne Hough), wannabe singer, starts out the film on a bus, getting fellow travelers and even the driver to join her for a rousing rendition of "Sister Christian" in a goofy yet infectious scene that sets the tone for the movie.

The action winds up at the Bourbon Room, where owner Dennis Dupree (a shaggy Alec Baldwin) is trying to avert financial disaster. His last big hope is the final performance of huge metal-band Arsenal before their singer, Stacee Jaxx, goes solo. Sherrie gets a job at the Bourbon Room thanks to a chance meeting with Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), another up-and-coming singer trying to make it in the big city.

The paint-by-numbers plot, assembled by a team of screenwriters including Justin Theroux (Iron Man 2, Tropic Thunder), is just a place-setter for musical numbers featuring tunes originally turned in by Def Leppard, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, etc. There's an occasional good joke about drinking or puking, but the film is mostly a reason for big stars to lip-synch admirably to their own vocal tracks.

Let it be said that I detest hair rock. When characters in this movie talk about the power of rock 'n' roll, I couldn't help but think, "Where's Led Zeppelin or The Who?" This plastic music was all the wow during my teen and college years, a fact that frightens and disturbs me. Oh, sure, the occasional Guns N Roses or Leppard song was OK, but Poison and Motley Crüe almost killed me. And Starship? This is the umpteenth movie to use what is easily the worst song ever recorded, "We Built This City." Hell, the Muppets had it in their movie last year!

The fact that I enjoyed this movie despite this music says a lot about the cast, including Cruise, Russell Brand and Malin Akerman, as a Rolling Stone reporter who shares a funny sex scene with Cruise that includes him using her ass as a microphone.

A song that has always pissed me off would be "Wanted Dead or Alive," with Jon Bon Jovi likening himself to a gunfighter with his oh-so-burdensome rock career. Yet when Cruise sings the song in this movie, it takes on an awesome new life. He, quite frankly, puts Mr. Bon Jovi to shame. This is the first time I've enjoyed listening to that particular track.

Hough, who can dance like nobody else and sports a decent voice, gives us somebody sweet to root for in Sherrie. Boneta is a little hard to take at times as Drew, but I did warm up to him, especially when he was transformed into the lead singer of an awful boy band. Paul Giamatti provides the requisite sleaze factor as Jaxx's conniving manager.

If you go to this movie, know that you will see and hear some amazing stuff from Mr. Cruise. Apart from his stunning vocal work, he has the slithery, messed-up rock-star persona nailed. The man is pushing 50, but he doesn't look a day older than 30 as far as his physique is concerned. While I'm sure they did some studio tweaking to help his voice along, he definitely has a lot to offer with the pipes.

Beyond Cruise, Rock of Ages is just a mildly enjoyable musical goof, sort of like the Across the Universe movie that featured the work of the Beatles—but with far-crappier songs.

Rock of Ages
Rated PG-13 · 123 minutes · 2012
Official Site: rockofagesmovie.warnerbros.com
Director: Adam Shankman
Producer: Matthew Weaver, Scott Prisand, Carl Levin, Tobey Maguire, Garrett Grant, Jennifer Gibgot, Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener, Michael Disco, Samuel Brown, Hillary Weaver, Janet Rich, Adam Shankman and Chris D'Arienzo
Cast: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, Bryan Cranston, Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise, Will Forte, Erica Frene and Angelo Valderrama

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More by Bob Grimm

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What others are saying (10)

Creative Loafing Atlanta Hollywood Product: Rock of Ages This tribute to '80s rock is anything but a good time. by Edward Adams 06/14/2012
Boise Weekly Rock Of Ages Rocks Morrison Center Featuring songs from Whitesnake, Twisted Sister, Pat Benatar and 25 other acts, Rock of Ages rewinds to 1987, when the stilettos were high and the hair was higher. by Trevor Villagrana 01/09/2013
7 more reviews...
Charleston City Paper Rock of Ages is a predictable ’80s-fueled musical Hitting the screen by way of a team of scriptwriters that includes the original stage production's Chris D'Arienzo, Rock of Ages presents a fairy-tale version of Los Angeles' heavy metal scene circa 1987. by Isaac Weeks 06/13/2012
Portland Mercury Glee—with More Hair! Rock of Ages: not the good kind of stupid. by Wm. Steven Humphrey 06/14/2012
The Coast Halifax Rock of Ages Hair metal musical could stand to sink a little lower by Jacob Boon 06/14/2012
Indy Week Rock of Ages is good only for the nostalgia While the soundtrack may have your toes tapping, director Adam Shankman's staging is slapdash and silly, as if he was assembling a hair band-themed amusement park ride. by Neil Morris 06/13/2012
Creative Loafing Charlotte Rock of Ages frequently tone-deaf Rating: ** by Matt Brunson 06/22/2012
Colorado Springs Independent Blast from the past: Rock of Ages What would Rock of Ages do with the fist-pumping, lighter-waving glory days of "hair metal" and power ballads? by Scott Renshaw 06/13/2012

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