Built on hair-metal hits from the 1980s, Rock of Ages has been confounding critics and wowing audiences from Los Angeles to Broadway since it first opened in 2005. It had to become a movie. OK, maybe it didn’t. But director Adam Shankman (Hairspray), working from a script by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo and Allan Loeb, wisely takes little notice of the plot about how country girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and city boy Drew (Diego Boneta) fall in love while trying to hit the music business with their best shot on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, circa 1987.
Shankman knows where the emphasis should be: on “sweat, ear-shattering music and puke,” in the words of Dennis Dupree, the Bourbon Room owner played by a wonderfully wiggy Alec Baldwin. Dennis is fighting to save his club, modeled on the Roxy and the Whisky. For that he needs rock icon Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), the lead singer of Arsenal, the band set to make its farewell appearance at the Bourbon before Stacee goes solo. Stacee’s greedy manager, Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti, glorious), plans to scam the take from Dennis and his adoring sound technician, Lonny (Russell Brand). Worse, Patricia Whitmore (a powerhouse Catherine Zeta-Jones), the wife of the mayor (Bryan Cranston), wants to close down the sinful club scene, where even sweet Sherrie takes a job at a strip joint run by Justice (the inimitable Mary J. Blige). To amp up Stacee’s last show, an interview is arranged with Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Malin Akerman), who is soon having a sexual duet with her subject on a pool table (a shocking breach for RS correspondents – the table, I mean).
These megasilly complications would flatten any other movie. But the hugely enjoyable Rock of Ages is saved by its music, a tasty brew drawn from Def Leppard, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison and Whitesnake. It’s near impossible not to rock along. No wonder Rock of Ages is known on Broadway as “Mamma Mia! for metalheads.”
But even if you never again want to listen to “Don’t Stop Believin’,” there’s no denying the party-time pow of Rock of Ages, or of Cruise’s performance. He’s phenomenal. He gets all the moves right – the sound, too (check him out on Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”). Better yet, he finds the heart that still beats inside the bare chest of this sex, drugs and rock & roll casualty. In a movie that only wants to rock you, Cruise plays it for keeps. Resistance is futile.