June 21, 2012

Cruise shines in 'Rock of Ages'


---- — Broadway musicals often don’t translate well to the big screen. The flimsy plots seem more noticeable, and people breaking out into spontaneous song seems more silly than it does on stage.

“Rock of Ages,” in particular, does not translate well — though it’s probably more because of the material and performers than the actual concept.

The movie headlines rock music of the 1980s, with songs from Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister and Poison, among others.

The cover versions performed by the cast — with a couple of exceptions, including a mash-up or two — fall short of the originals, though, and frankly, some of the originals featured here were pretty terrible to begin with.

The basic storyline is about as corny and predictable as can be: Sherrie, a pure-hearted small-town girl from Oklahoma, steps off a bus in 1987 Hollywood, dreaming of a music career.

She falls in love with another wannabe rock star who works at a rundown but famous club that has launched the careers of many a performer, including rock legend Stacee Jaxx, whose band is set for its final performance.

Tom Cruise gets top billing on the posters, and he is excellent as Jaxx, the erratic, drunken, swaggering king of excess. Cruise looks the part perfectly and even shows some singing chops.

Unfortunately, he’s more of a supporting character, with most of the screen time going to the blandest imaginable leads: Julianne Hough (“Footloose”) as Sherrie and Diego Boneta (“90210”) as up-and-coming rocker Drew.

The two try to garner meaningful emotion out of an array of ‘80s power ballads, but there isn’t the faintest edge to either of them, and their romance never feels important or real.

The supporting cast is bursting with familiar faces. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand run the club. Bryan Cranston is the mayor of Los Angeles, and Catherine Zeta-Jones has some fun as his crusading wife. Paul Giamatti is appropriately sleazy as a rock promoter.

“Rock of Ages” is energetic and doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it drags more than any musical ever should, especially whenever Cruise is not on screen.

It’s not without humor, and there are some good moments — a Russell Brand/Alec Baldwin REO Speedwagon duet is very nearly worth the price of admission by itself.

I couldn’t recommend it, however, to anyone who doesn’t already have the deepest, most endearing memories of Night Ranger and Whitesnake.

Rental Recommendation: Mark Wahlberg plays a cover-band singer who gets a shot at stardom in “Rock Star.”

Grade: B.