Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rock of Ages

Adam Shankman’s “Rock of Ages” keeps the streak alive: No good movie since “Aladdin” has relied for laughs on reaction shots from a monkey. Shankman has assembled a kitchen-sink cast for his affectionate homage to 80s hair metal, of whom approximately one (Mary J. Blige) can actually sing. The rest vary from barely passable (Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mayor’s wife, who’s intent on shutting down Sunset Strip, Tom Cruise as debauched rock god Stacee Jaxx) to unspeakable (Alec Baldwin as the proprietor of the Bourbon Room, Russell Brand as his lieutenant, Paul Giamatti as Jaxx’s venal agent).

The seen-it-a-million-times framing story involves Sherrie (Julianne Hough), fresh meat off the turnip truck from Oklahoma who arrives in Hollywood with 17 bucks and a bunch of vinyl records and meet-cutes Drew (newcomer Diego Boneta), a Bourbon Room barback who sweet-talks Baldwin into hiring her (and evidently paying her a month in advance; she’s suddenly got an apartment and a whole new wardrobe). Baldwin’s this close to having to shutter the legendary club – which would suit Zeta-Jones and her fellow Tippers to a T – and views the upcoming Arsenal show – Jaxx’s last as frontman before going solo – as his final reprieve.

It’s all an excuse for the characters to break into song and dance, and the success of the movie depends on whether these numbers work. Shankman does a respectable job of choreographing several of them; he can fill the screen with action and moves the camera nicely from spot to spot. I liked, for instance, the show-stopper he gave Cruise with Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” as well as a scene set outside the club, in which Zeta-Jones and Brand square off, rival protestors in tow, to a mash-up of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and Starship’s “We Built This City” (never mind that Blender ranked the latter the worst song in rock history).

But the singing is, on average, very bad indeed. Hough has too many songs; her voice is tiny and tinny and you spend each one waiting for it to end. Boneta fares a bit better, but he’s generic; his mop of wavy hair has more personality than the rest of him. As for Baldwin’s and Brand’s rendition of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” let me go out on a limb: Not only are the two an ironclad lock for the Worst Screen Couple Razzie, but the award will thereafter be permanently retired.

“Rock of Ages” feels like it was a lot of fun for Adam Shankman to make, reasonably fun for some of the cast to participate in, and, at over two hours, fairly torturous for us in the paying audience. One other point: Shankman appears to have allowed his well-documented oral fixation to hijack an otherwise almost family-friendly movie. Every other scene seems to end with one person’s face at the level of another’s crotch. Sexy, you say? I say, ri-dick-ulous.

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