Rock of Ages: if Chuck Norris and Clay Aiken sang hair metal on ‘Glee’ (or “Why is that monkey dressed like Muammar Gaddafi?”)

Unless you live some strange ascetic life, there’s little doubt you’ve heard a little something about the new movie musical Rock of Ages. Based on a hit Broadway musical, RoA (as I’m calling it, pronounced “Row-ah”), is seeking to following the footsteps of such hit movie musicals like GlitterXanadu, and the tour de force From Justin to Kelly. [side note: I think I’m one of two people to actually pay money to go see FJTK. The other? Probably my friend, Nathan. But seriously, how could we NOT go see it:


But really, RoA wasn’t really a bad movie. In fact, somewhere in there is a pretty terrific movie (but more on that later)

Let’s start with the good:

Paul Giamatti (playing a greedy manager), looked suspiciously like Gallagher (but without the watermelons), had a sweet bald-ish/afro-ish ponytailed mullet, enough sweet suits to make Sonny Crockett jealous, and Zach Morris’s cell phone. He was every bit the opportunistic sleazeball and even belted out a few bars of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.” It was fabulous. And I couldn’t get enough.

“Hello, Stacee Jaxx’s manager’s phone.”

Also good? Mary J. Blige, who  proves again she is the Queen of Awesome and can do no wrong. She’s not the best actress, but let’s be honest. When you can sing like that, who cares if her acting chops are a little lacking. And as the only real professional singer of the lot (Sorry Julianne Hough. One shitty country song does not make you a professional.), I expected her to be amazing.

Catherine Zeta Jones (aka Mrs. Douglas), Alec Baldwin and the former Mr.Katy Perry were also bright spots in their (brief) time on screen. In one of the strangest scenes CZJ belts out “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” with a chorus of women that look like they robbed a Laura Ashley Store in a church, while her husband (the ever delightful Bryan Cranston) proceeds to get a little 50 Shades of Grey with his mistress nearby. Uncomfortable to watch? No more than actually READING 50 Shades. Besides, CZJ is actually a pretty good singer. And the clothes are so hilarious, it makes the scene worth it.

I’m not entirely convinced Baldwin and Brand did much acting. Baldwin paraded around in a leopard print shirt and a TERRIBLE wig. He also attended the “Chuck Norris Vocal Academy” as his “singing” was more in the vein of Chuck Norris than say Chuck Berry.

The crew gave Russell Brand an equally terrible wig, for reasons I can’t comprehend. I’m pretty if the director had said “Hey, Russell. We need you to cut your hair into a feathered mullet,” I’m pretty sure Brand would have been game. This is the guy who once dressed up like Osama bin Laden. I think he could have handled a bad haircut.

Now for the GREAT:

Tom Cruise. In a word: fantastic. In a few words: completely bloody fantastic. No, really. He was. I wanted to think he was terrible and/or wrong for the part. I wanted to laugh at him. But I couldn’t. He was just too good. He played aging rock star Stacee Jaxx with a little bit of Axl, a little bit of Keith (Richards) and a little bit of a cult leader speaking only in “wise proverbs” (maybe he got some inspiration at the Scientology Center in LA?). He was just the right amounts charming (for all of Tom’s weird personal faults, he’s effortlessly charming on screen), bizarre, and oddly sexual (seriously. The guy’s pushing 50 and looks bangin’, yo.)  Plus, he had a monkey named “Hey Man” that he dressed like a little Muammar Gaddafi. Because why WOULDN’T you want to have a pet monkey that shared the stylin’ ways of a horrific Libyan dictator?!

“Sweet hat, Muammar. I have one just like it at home”
image courtesy of perez

Which brings us to the bad.

The two leads. In a word: unnecessary. In a few words: completely and totally unnecessary. I was more interested in Stacee Jaxx, Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin’s strange relationship, and even CZJ’s turn as Head Tea Partier (I’m pretty sure she prepped for the role by watching a lot of Glenn Beck. Minus the crying.)

Diego Boneta is a cute kid with a great voice. If the Z GuyEE-Z (the supremely terrible boy band Giamatti-Gallagher put together) had been a real group back in the late 80s, I totally would have been obsessed with them, writing “I ❤ Joshy Z” all over my notebooks. Had he a better co-star that he had actual chemistry with, he probably would have been even better.

Which brings me to Julianne Hough. Forgive me, but I can’t figure out why this girl is A- famous and B – still getting acting/singing work. She’s a gorgeous girl and a phenomenal dancer. But her acting and vocal ability is about as good as you’ll find in a community theater production of Oklahoma (and I know. I’ve seen such productions.) Halfway through the movie I wished she’d just pack up and take her “Sister Christian” ass back to Oklahoma and leave the movie to the grownups. I didn’t like her character, not because the character was unlikeable, but because Hough just isn’t a good enough actress or singer to make me care about her.

Like I said before, there’s a terrific movie buried in here. Tom Cruise, Malin Ackerman (who I love love love! seriously adorable, that one), Baldwin, Cathy Jones and Queen Mary J were all woefully underused. I would have preferred some character development from Stacee and explored him a bit more. Make HIM the central figure. Diego and Julianne could really be cut and the movie would have still worked. It just would have been about an aging rock star trying to stay relevant in the age of boy bands. Keep CZJ and Cranston, Baldwin and Brand and expand Mary J’s role. Maybe she and Stacee strike up an unlikely friendship after he starts coming to the strip club. I’m totally just spitballin’ here.

The big problem (aside from a completely miscast Julianne Hough) is that the movie isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. Is it a serious musical (like Jersey Boys) or a parody (in the vein of Spinal Tap)? I don’t think the cast was even on the same page. The leads were so earnest that you really bought they thought they were in The Graduate: The Musical rather than Xanadu: the Sequel. However, Baldwin, Brand and Cruise all seemed to realize the movie was ridiculous (and a farce) and played their characters accordingly. The result was a disjointed (and at times painful) 2+ hours.

But all is not lost, there were some great performances (particularly Tom Cruise) and some terrific–and terrifically funny—moments (the Baldwin and Brand duet. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s HILARIOUS). The music, for the most part, is really fun. Queen Mary J SLAYS on Pat Benatar’s “Shadows of the Night” (my wish is for her to actually release it as a single. It’s that good)  and Tom Cruise was a surprise vocally and sang his ass of. While his “Wanted Dead or Alive” isn’t quite as good as Bon Jovi’s, it was good enough to make me want to hear it again. With some tweaking, rewrites and editing, Rock of Ages has the potential to be a great film. Unfortunately, the reality falls flat.