Most movie musicals, even in the age of Glee, still face that awkward moment when somebody say her name is Sherrie Christian riding a Greyhound bursts into Sister Christian by Night Ranger, and the rest of the bus joins her for the chorus.
Audiences today titter at that. But you measure the movie by how quickly we get over it.
With Rock of Ages, the big-screen version of the jukebox stage musical set to 80s hair metal anthems and ballads, we never do.
(If you want to check out the original Rock of Ages on stage, the national tour will be in Boise Jan. 12-13 at the Morrison Center. Find ticket information at MC.BoiseState.edu.)
The all-star cast is game, but the filmmakers cant stop winking and mocking the mockable music long enough to let the picture built around over-the-top tunes by Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Journey and others pay off.
Tom Cruise, as burnt-out rocker Stacee Jaxx, will do his best Axl Rose impression bare-chested belting, waving a mike-stand bedecked in scarves or Diego Boneta, as an aspiring metal singer, will tear into Foreigners Jukebox Hero, or Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand and the rest of the cast will blast I Love Rock n Roll, and director Alan Shankman (Hairspray) will go for some cheap laugh and utterly undercut the moment.
Maybe the music, the fashion, the whole rapacious testosterone vibe of that spandex, eye-shadow, poodle-haired era is laughable. But its one thing to poke fun at something, quite another to attack it with utter contempt.
Thats the feel here.
Would you let a guy who hates corn and corny direct Oklahoma!?
Rock of Ages, which discards quite a bit of the book of the stage musical its based on, swirls around Jaxx, who staggers onstage for his farewell show at the Sunset Strips famed Bourbon Room and prepares to launch a solo career. Sherrie, a new waitress and would-be singer (Julianne Hough), and bartender-guitarist Drew (Boneta) dream of living the rock-god life that Stacee leads.
But its 1987, and that world is about to change. The film says its rap and boy bands that will kill the moussed music (musicians say it was grunge that did them in).
The Bourbon Room is under pressure from the mayors wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a cross between Anita Bryant and Tipper Gore, who pledges to clean up Sunset Strip and take Satan off our streets. She and her fellow Mothers Against Drunk Rockers then kick into a rowdy-raunchy rendition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot.
Drew writes songs for Sherrie, Sherrie moons over Drew, but fame ruins romance in La La Land. The spotlight doesnt just light them up. Its makes us disappear, another waitress warns Sherrie.
Thus, does Miss Innocent from Oklahoma wind up in a strip club run by Mary J. Blige, who delivers what passes for a show-stopper here Any Way You Want it, with a choreographed crew of VERY athletic pole dancers behind her.
You will be amazed at the actors who take on singing, often for the first time onscreen (Baldwin, Malin Akerman as a sexy Rolling Stone reporter, Paul Giamatti as Stacees sleazy manager) and dont embarrass themselves. Cruise, in particular, is a demented delight to watch, all jewel-encrusted dragons head codpiece, buttless chaps and self-serious drunken swagger.
But the songs, with a few exceptions, lack the urgency of the original renditions. The leads (Hough and Boneta) are so bland and thin-voiced that they seem out of step with 1987, even if theyre exactly what we get from pop stars in our Auto-tune era.