'80s rock, brought back for the ages

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Entertainment,Movies,Kelly Jane Torrance

Are you ready to rock?

It's a question that's been asked at countless concerts. If you're not prepared to answer with a fist pump and a resounding "Yeah!" there's no point to your seeing "Rock of Ages." Even if you do like the idea of seeing Tom Cruise wearing almost nothing but chaps.

"Rock of Ages" is an unabashed tribute to the hair metal bands of the 1980s, along with some of the other rock of the period. The film, based on the 2006 musical but with a heavily renovated storyline, gives us new renditions of, among others, Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me," Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive," Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock," and Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" -- all without irony.

On screen
'Rock of Ages'
3 out of 4 stars
Stars: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise
Director: Adam Shankman
Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language
Running time: 123 minutes

There's plenty of silliness in "Rock of Ages." But you can't blame the music for that -- it's the musical. The genre comes with a certain degree of absurdity. Director Adam Shankman, who recently remade "Hairspray," understands that and, instead of hopelessly trying to get around it, has decided to embrace it. So as the film opens with Sherrie (Julianne Hough) following her dreams of stardom from Oklahoma to Los Angeles and joined in song first by a bus driver, then a few of the passengers, and finally the entire vehicle, you laugh -- you're meant to.

It's 1987 and Sherrie arrives to a bustling scene on the Sunset Strip -- and a mugger who steals her suitcase. Drew (Diego Boneta) tries to help her. But he's more successful in catching her attention. He also has dreams of hitting it big in the music industry.

He gets her a job at the Bourbon Room, a live music venue where he works and hopes to make it on stage someday. It's run by a comical pair played to the hilarious hilt by Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand. The mayor's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) wants to turn the dirty Bourbon into a Benetton. The only thing that can save the club is a performance by the unreliable superstar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), who prefers his groupies before the show. But he might tear our two young lovers apart in the process.

Not many actors could convincingly portray a man who makes women faint. Tom Cruise can. His entrance on screen is nothing less than astonishing. What might be more surprising is that he can sing, too.

So can the rest of the cast. (Excepting perhaps Alec Baldwin, but he doesn't actually try.) Boneta and Hough's version of "Waiting for a Girl Like You" is actually better than the Foreigner original.

The one false note in this celebration of excess is Malin Akerman's Rolling Stone reporter. It's nothing to do with the actress, who holds her own with Cruise. It's that they're supposed to be falling in love when all we see on screen is more rock god sex.

There's unexpected authenticity elsewhere, though. When Sherrie's dreams turn sour and she turns to stripping to make a buck, you can see everything she's feeling in Hough's pretty eyes. "Rock of Ages" might be lowbrow entertainment. But there's nothing to be embarrassed about in enjoying it.

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Kelly Jane Torrance

Washington Examiner Movie Critic
The Washington Examiner