I guess if somebody’s going to make a 2012 movie musical arranged around a series of 1980s hair-music anthems, it better be a parody of itself.
That pretty much describes the whackadoodle “Rock of Ages,” an occasionally fun adaptation of a Broadway hit. This is a weird one, but at least it’s a different note in the summer blockbuster sweepstakes.
Our heroine is a small-town girl (Julianne Hough, from “Footloose”) who arrives on the Sunset Strip in 1987. A nicely loopy song on a bus to Los Angeles, with the passengers chiming in on “Sister Christian,” gets the movie off on the right foot.
She falls in with a waiter/rock singer (Diego Boneta) at a legendary rock club owned by a ’60s burnout (Alec Baldwin); the big event at the club is the upcoming appearance by Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), a strutting, booze-swilling rocker who leads with his crotch.
Yep, Tom Cruise. And let’s be clear: Whatever you think of Cruise’s recent career wanderings, he throws himself into this nonsense with his usual no-guts-no-glory approach, and owns it completely.
Cruise must be aware that he’s spoofing his own level of celebrity. As a way to revitalize his career, this is a very shrewd performance.
The L.A. mayor (Bryan Cranston) has a wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) on an anti-smut campaign, focused on Jaxx. Zeta-Jones gets to dance a bit, and everybody (including Baldwin and Russell Brand, who plays the club manager) sings their own songs, which lends charm.
The movie includes period novelties, such as courtship in a record store (you remember record stores, right?) and the queasy phenomenon of New Wave boy bands. Director Adam Shankman, who directed the musical version of “Hairspray,” knows how to draw the campiness out of these things.
Speaking of “Hairspray,” Shankman channels John Waters at a few moments. For a PG-13 picture, “Rock of Ages” has quite a ration of raunch, the apex of which is an uproarious sequence between Cruise’s randy rocker and a Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman). They duet on the Foreigner power ballad “I Want to Know What Love Is” while arranging themselves in various Kama Sutra positions.
This is part of the movie’s weirdness. It has a hokey plot and a dirty mind, and it constantly reminds us of how ridiculous and cliched it all is. I wonder if “Rock of Ages” might work better if it committed itself to its absurdities, rather than playing it tongue in cheek.
On the other hand, how does anybody play “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” straight? For the answer to that one, climb into the time machine and travel back to 1984.
“Rock of Ages” ½
A whackadoodle musical arranged around 1980s hair-music anthems and a tongue-in-cheek attitude about itself. Dewy romance plays out in a rock club on the Sunset Strip in 1987, where a legendary rocker (Tom Cruise, walking away with the movie in a supporting part) holds court and an anti-smut crusader (Catherine Zeta-Jones) tries to shut things down. Some very funny moments, and quite a bit of raunch.
Rated: PG-13 for language, subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Standwood, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.