When I'm at Kings Island on a hot summer day, I happily go to one of their air-conditioned theaters to relax and watch a 20 to 30 minute cavalcade of '80s arena rock, hair metal and power ballads performed by meticulously groomed young people trained to smile constantly and be unfailingly peppy.
Imagine that show, done Hollywood style (and based on a Broadway musical - credibility!), with a few big names sprinkled in alongside the chronically perky kids, and you've got an idea of what to expect from "Rock of Ages," directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray). Imagine a series of inconsequential plot lines, too flimsy even by Broadway musical standards, and full-tilt celebrity karaoke versions of classic rock staples by Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake and others. Imagine watching this for two hours and three minutes. Feeling excited yet?
The story lines are as follows: A rock icon (Tom Cruise) swaggers around until a sexy journalist (Malin Akerman) challenges his behavior. Two Kings Island graduates (Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta) fall for each other. A pair of lovable lugs (Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand) offer comic relief and get ripped off by a bad man (Paul Giamatti). Squares (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bryan Cranston) try to stop the rock. And there's a visit to the least revealing strip club in the history of skin (run by Mary J. Blige).
Supporting player Tom Cruise is the film's biggest asset. Cruise ferociously throws himself into the role of an Axl Rose-style rock star. From his indulgent, borderline psychotic encounters with others to his stage performances, he is as close to real as the movie gets. And he can sing who knew? As with everything in the production, Cruise is overused I suggest when you get tired of his musical numbers, you entertain yourself by studying his frequently bare torso. Cruise will soon turn 50 and his blocky, muscular physique is impressive.
Alec Baldwin has a few amusing moments, but frequently appears lost, while Russell Brand is unusually subdued most of the time. He gets to be cheeky in the film's big squares vs. rockers face-off, which combines "We Built This City" with "We're Not Gonna Take it." How edgy. Baldwin and Brand get one riotous song together you'll know it when you see it. The flick sags noticeably whenever romantic leads Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta appear back to Kings Island with the both of you (Hough appears in an agreeable number on a bus, but it only gets good when the driver and other passengers join in the tune). Mary J. Blige is fine, while Breaking Bad's great Bryan Cranston is wasted.
Rock of Ages suffers because the whole movie is cranked up to "11." Director Shankman did well enough with Hairspray, but this time fails to recognize the need to vary the tone to keep the proceedings interesting. His version simply pummels the audience for two hours. I had fun at times. More often I was bemused. Finally, I just wanted it to be over.
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