Thursday, June 14, 2012
If there’s one thing that rock ‘n’ roll has understood from the beginning – to the consternation of pearl-clutching panty-sniffers everywhere – it’s that selling sex to horny girls and women is a license to print money. It’s honestly astonishing that Hollywood hasn’t figured this out and appropriated some of rock’s hormonal mojo, what with its religious devotion to making a buck, or a billion. Which is what makes it so amazing to see how female-gazey Rock of Ages is. More than any other movie about rock has ever been, maybe. And this is just a madly silly, deeply goofy movie that’s meant to pander to GenX ’80s nostalgia. It’s not trying to be radical or revolutionary or anything other than money-grubbing. I’m not even sure director Adam Shankman realizes how extraordinary his film is on this level.
Because, this: I am not an especial fangirl of Tom Cruise. I’ve never found him particularly intriguing or attractive, and I have found a few reasons to be turned off. But… day-um. The man is 50 years old and he’s half-naked throughout Rock of Ages as ’80s rock god Stacee Jaxx, singer for the band Arsenal. Cruise owns this movie in a way that would have been hard for me to fathom before I saw it. It’s not just about his gyrating and howling and sweaty half-naked bod, but he sings! Tom Cruise sings! And he’s good! Or at least good enough to make you realize that this guy could have gone in a slightly different direction and been Bon Jovi instead of Tom Cruise. Which makes you realize that it’s all – Hollywood and rock and roll and the whole big pop-culture shebang – the same thing, and so why does rock get it so right in embracing women audiences while movies mostly get it so wrong?
ROCK OF AGES IS NOT TRYING TO BE RADICAL OR REVOLUTIONARY OR ANYTHING OTHER THAN MONEY-GRUBBING.
The story is almost beside the point, because Tom Cruise’s nude torso and because the young kittenish leads in this story cobbled together around awesome ’80s hair-band stadium anthems are the weakest part of it. Sweet blond Sherrie rides the bus from Oklahoma to Los Angeles in 1987 where she meets cute Drew, who works in a rock club on the Sunset Strip and they both wanna be rock stars or something and so they fall in love and stuff and the youthful earnestness will make you want to smack them. Oh, OK, that’s an exaggeration: Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta are adorable, mostly in how they’re far too young to actually remember hair bands or stadium anthems. But their puppyish romance is by far the least interesting and the least fun thing here.
True fun: Alec Baldwin as the club owner, and Russell Brand as his lieutenant, and their cynicism about sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, and how it still can’t quite defeat their love of same. Paul Giamatti as the talent agent, who’s hilariously sleazy and opportunistic. Bryan Cranston as the hypocritical mayor of L.A., and Catherine Zeta-Jones as his pearl-clutching, panty-sniffing wife who wants to shut down the club. Malin Akerman as the rock journalist who is the only one not afraid to call rock god Stacee Jaxx on his bullshit. And Cruise as Jaxx, who almost feels like a revelation here, like we never knew he could be so relaxed onscreen, even while he portrays a character stressed out and and pressured to maintain a facade.
And his story is the most compelling: We’re told he’s about to go solo, abandon Arsenal, and so, like… what does that mean? Is he gonna invent grunge? Rock of Ages is having a lot of fun with its nostalgia and its gentle prodding of recent history, and that’s the sort of direction it might take. Mostly, though, I didn’t think Cruise had such a sense of humor about himself… and that’s way more appealing than any amount of sexy rock sweating.
I know plenty of folks don’t like seeing the music of their adolescence appropriated by high school drama clubs, and I can see how some might feel that has happened here – Rock of Ages isn’t just cheesy, it’s a nuclear explosion of cheese. But you know what? A lot of those ’80s hair-band anthems were romantic and ridiculous already, and not even in a “Lick My Love Pump” way. Rock of Ages just reminded me how much I love the music of the ’80s.
Yeah, maybe it’s sorta sad that what was once seen as angry and rebellious and even satanic – the Zeta-Jones character isn’t an exaggeration – now can play so amiably. But that’s always how it is with rock ‘n’ roll, isn’t it? What thrilled one generation and shocked their parents is now a golden, mellow oldie. This is no bad thing.
ROCK OF AGES (3½) • Directed by Adam Shankman. • Starring Tom Cruise, Alec Balwin and Catherine Zeta-Jones. • Rated PG-13; 123 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge, Lighthouse Cinemas.