Just when you thought you'd never hear Def Leppard's “Pour Some Sugar on Me” again outside of a strip club comes “Rock of Ages,” a shiny, splashy homage to the decadence of 1980s rock 'n' roll.
Specifically, we're talking about 1987 on the Sunset Strip, the birthplace of bands like Guns N' Roses and Poison, and all the big-haired, eye-linered debauchery that defined that scene. Your enjoyment of this musical, based on the Tony-nominated Broadway show, will depend greatly on your enjoyment of this music — because director Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) crams in a lot of it.
Journey's “Don't Stop Believin',” the film's climactic final number, has the misfortune of having grown tiresome in recent years because of “Glee” and “The Sopranos” finale. If we're being nitpicky, some of songs featured here, like the Extreme ballad “More Than Words,” didn't even exist yet.
Still, if this era was a formative time in your life and you're feeling a yearning for kitschy nostalgia, “Rock of Ages” provides a sufficiently fun little escape. Wine coolers! Men with ponytails!
Sure, the characters are all broad types, from fresh-faced newcomers with dreams of stardom to grizzled, cynical veterans who've seen it all. And sure, their antics are glossed-up and watered-down compared to reality to ensure a PG-13 accessibility. But the movie has enough energy to keep you suitably entertained, as well as a knowing, cheeky streak that prevents it from turning too reverent and self-serious.
The impossibly adorable Julianne Hough stars as Sherrie, a wholesome blonde fresh off the bus from Oklahoma who hopes to make it as a singer in Los Angeles. Instead, she ends up working as a waitress at the venerable (and fictional) Bourbon Room, where she quickly falls for aspiring rocker Drew (Diego Boneta).
But the club has lost some of its cache, to the distress of its owner (Alec Baldwin in long hair and a leather vest) and his right-hand man (Russell Brand, being Russell Brand), so they're hoping a performance from rock god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise, easily the best part of the film) will keep them alive.
Stacee's sleazy manager (a well-cast Paul Giamatti, who's also game enough to sing) merely wants to continue milking his notoriously unreliable client.
With a bandana tied around his long, wild tresses, aviator sunglasses and fur coat over his bare, tatted chest, Cruise is clearly aping Guns N' Roses lead singer Axl Rose. The swagger is reminiscent of his supporting role in “Magnolia,” still his best work yet.