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‘Rock of Ages’ a crumbling mess


‘Rock of Ages’ a crumbling mess

Published: 1:08 PM, 06/21/2012
Last updated: 10:32 AM, 06/22/2012

You know a studio is desperate when it releases a desperation trailer.

That’s the kind of trailer released a week or so before the film, featuring interviews with cast and crew, explaining why they think people will like – and should see – their movie. It all but begs viewers to watch it, coming across as a celluloid infomercial – throw in a couple Shake Weights and it’d be set.

In this particular trailer, everyone stresses that “Rock of Ages” is like a musical but not, how dudes will enjoy watching it with their girlfriends because, after all, it features music by Journey, Foreigner and a nearly nude Tom Cruise.

It does feature all of the above, but it’s essentially a celebrity karaoke session, with the likes of Alec Baldwin (“Beetlejuice”), Paul Giamatti (“Sideways”) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (“The Mask of Zorro”) clumsily belting out pop hair metal tunes.

The film’s two leads, Julianne Hough (2011’s “Footloose”) and Diego Boneta (TV’s “90210”), fare a bit better, but lack any sort of chemistry or charisma, bringing the film to an awkward and apathetic start.

But it’s not just them. Directed by Adam Shankman (2007’s “Hairspray”) and based on the Broadway musical, the film is devoid of character and conflict, leaving viewers with no investment, seeming to think it can get by on music alone.

It’s as if the filmmakers picked their favorite classic rock tunes and wrote a shoddy screenplay around them, crafting stilted dialogue that only serves to lead into the next Whitesnake number.

For instance, it’s 1987, and Sherrie Christian (Hough) is just a small-town girl living in a lonely world – Oklahoma, to be precise – who arrives in L.A. with stars in her eyes, having just sung “Sister Christian” with her fellow bus travelers.

She soon meets Drew (Boneta), an aspiring rocker who’s biding his time bussing tables at the strip’s most popular rock venue, The Bourbon Room. To win her graces, he convinces Bourbon Room owners Dennis Dupree (Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) to hire Sherrie as a waitress, just in time for a landmark event – the final concert of the fictitious (but convincingly named) Arsenal, before front man and rock demigod Stacee Jaxx (Cruise, “Mission: Impossible”) goes solo.

They sing about it, Drew considers himself a “Jukebox Hero,” and their friendship blossoms via montage into a doe-eyed – but rockin’ – romance.

But there’s trouble at city hall. The mayor (Bryan Cranston, TV’s “Breaking Bad”) is caving to his prudish wife, Patricia (Zeta-Jones), who bears a grudge against Jaxx and wishes to see rock ’n’ roll obliterated from the city – so much so that she sings “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” a rock song, mind you, to convince some church ladies to go along with her.

Meanwhile, The Bourbon Room might be in danger due to some delinquent tax payments or something, exacerbated by Jaxx’s agent (Giamatti) ripping them off, and Sherrie and Drew break up over a simple misunderstanding. Each goes their separate way, meeting new characters and opening up more opportunities for arbitrarily placed musical numbers – like when Sherrie starts working as a PG-13 stripper for nightclub owner Justice (singer Mary J. Blige). Drew doesn’t fare so well, winding up in a boy band. But maybe they can both be saved by rock ’n’ roll.

You just can’t feel sorry – or anything – for these characters. Rather than celebrate the ’80s or, dare say, make a statement of sorts, director Shankman uses it only as a backdrop for what’s presumably some of his favorite music, with the characters, all of whom are two-dimensional archetypes, blending into the background.

The songs and their placement carry no gravity and do not advance the film’s threadbare plot. They’re simply here to be here, and the performances only make you want to listen to the original recordings.

No one seems to be having fun, except for Cruise, whose over-the-top performance as the drugged-out, boozed-up and oversexed Jaxx delivers some of the film’s only laughs, although his character’s pet baboon also deserves some credit.

“Rock of Ages” has its bizarre moments, though, like Zeta-Jones lumbering through a poorly choreographed dance number and Baldwin and Brand singing REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” to each other.

But unintentional humor and Cruise’s tongue-in-cheek performance don’t help the movie’s uneven pacing and excruciating two-hour-plus runtime. It’s as if Shankman had too much (clap clap) time on his hands.

“Rock of Ages,” rated PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking and language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 13-B or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.