This weekend, "Rock of Ages,” starring Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and Catherine Zeta Jones, saunters into theaters, ready to melt your face off with its ‘80s song-and-dance theatrics.
Although I had more cons than pros for the big-screen Broadway adaptation, I put on my ‘80s optimism cap and tried to make the best of a bad (and overlong) situation. The results follow.
PRO: The music
There are plenty of great ‘80s tunes to rock out to and sing along with in the movie, especially if you’ve had a lot to drink or are maintaining a quiet prescription drug problem. (Sadly, the phony lighters that they passed out at the Broadway version of “Ages” are not included here, probably because they would have been very annoying.)
CON: The universe
Those who think long and hard about”Rock of Ages” will come to realize the world it inhabits is more confusing than the one in “Prometheus.” This film seemingly exists in a place where classic rock songs are well known, even though characters sing each one like they came up with them themselves.
PRO: Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise really gives it his all. As perpetually soused rocker Stacee Jaxx, he inhabits the character in an admirably committed way, covering himself in tattoos (he's got a dragon circling one nipple with a broken heart clutched in its talons), while speaking in a slow, hazy drawl. Here, Cruise is a swaggering embodiment of Reagan-era excess and rock 'n' roll hedonism.
CON: Almost everyone else
Next to Cruise, the rest of the cast seems hopelessly drab and, quite frankly, lazy.
PRO: The big kiss between Tom Cruise and Malin Akerman
In a climactic moment, Cruise's debauched rock star Stacee Jaxx and Akerman's moralistic Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (who invented these names? They sound like something J.K. Rowling came up with after falling asleep on her keyboard) give new meaning to the word "suck face." It's tempting to call what happens between them a "French kiss," but that's like describing a hurricane as a "light shower."
CON: The big kiss between Tom Cruise and Malin Akerman
There was a lengthy debate on the subway ride home about which was more disgusting: that kiss or the (SPOILER) grisly birth scene from "Prometheus." (The kiss might have nudged it out, ever-so-slightly.)
PRO: Mary J. Blige's Hair
In the film, Mary J. Blige plays the saucy owner of a gentleman's club where our plucky heroine Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is forced to work. Besides being the movie's best singer by a considerable margin, Blige’s ‘do is genuinely amazing –- a teased-out kink that suggests actual hair (or at least a passing interest in bouncy naturalism).
CON: The wigs
Almost everyone else in "Rock of Ages," from Baldwin to Russell Brand (who normally has pretty rock star-ish hair), is saddled with a truly atrocious wig, which seem to be fashioned from old dolls’ hair or the shaved fur of a Winterfell direwolf. At one point, while goggling at Hough's weird hairline, I leaned over to my friend and asked, "Is that a wig?" To which she replied: "I sure hope so."
PRO: The sentiment
While "Rock of Ages" has some pretty questionable gender politics (apparently, the only two places for a young girl to work in 1987 were rock clubs and strip joints), we'll put that aside for a moment to focus on the positive, like its innate belief in the power and binding spirit of love, friendship, and rock ‘n' roll camaraderie. (And, indeed, it looked like everyone involved in "Rock of Ages" had a wonderful time filming the movie.) At the end of the day, the film's rotating satellite of sub-plots and interconnected stories all boiled down to familiar -- and pleasurably adorable -- romantic comedy tropes.
CON: The weird homophobic overtones
For a movie directed by a gay man, based on a play that originally appeared on Broadway, "Ages" often felt homophobic (and not in a jovial, good natured, we're-all-in-on-the-joke kind of way). The only gay couple on screen is (SPOILER) Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, and it’s played more for laughs than anything else. Sadly, no other relationship is milked for so many yuks.
PRO: The cameos!
I won't give them all away, but my personal favorites were Will Forte as a mustachioed television reporter and Eli Roth as a music video director. (It's easily Roth's best cameo moment since 2010's "Piranha 3D," when he played the judge of a wet T-shirt competition who encouraged the ladies to "Show your Danny DeVitos!," before being bloodily crushed between two motor boats.)
CON: The cameos are few and far between
By the time "Rock of Ages" eclipses the 90-minute mark, you're looking for something to keep your attention (anything, really). Spotting Eli Roth amongst the cast does the trick, but only for a minute.
PRO: Julianne Hough is super cute
Hough is a really likable leading lady, who knows how to dance and sing.
CON: She was cuter in "Footloose"
For most of "Rock of Ages," I was thinking about how much better Hough was in Craig Brewer's amazing (and underrated) "Footloose" remake from last year (and how I would probably throw on the "Footloose" Blu-ray when I got home, which I did).
PRO: Its ‘80s-ness
Even though almost everything about "Rock of Ages" is stagey and fake (it was filmed in Florida, even though it is supposed to take place in California), it does occasionally give off wafts of what it was actually like to live and rock in the ‘80s. Most of these flourishes are subtle but appreciated, like the faithful recreation of an ‘80s-era Tower Records (although, truthfully, wouldn't the used records have been in a different section?) or the awful Cosby sweaters that Giamatti proudly wears. The movie also feels like it carries with it that weird ‘80s optimism: a misplaced enthusiasm that bordered on Utopian futurism, wherein everything around the corner was going to be alright.
CON: Its lack of ‘80s-ness
No, weren't looking for a history lesson, but those wanting one will be severely disappointed. While Russell Brand gets off a zinger about Margaret Thatcher, the following 1987 issues are never addressed, mentioned, or dramatized: AIDS, cocaine, Ronald Reagan, Iran-Contra, Affirmative Action, and the debut of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."