It’s 1987. “Rock ‘n’ roll is a disease,” or so says Patricia Whitman (Catherine Zeta-Jones), wife of Los Angeles Mayor Mike Whitman (Bryan Stanton). The problem — Patty says — lies in “sex, hateful music, and…”
Patty pauses like former GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Perry did when trying to name the three governmental agencies he would eliminate.
“Sex,” she finally says as the conservative women around her gasp in horror.
Meanwhile, the supposedly dark and dirty realm of rock ‘n’ roll — embodied by rock god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), front man of the band Arsenal — is trying to persevere against the burgeoning ’90s boy bands that are ‘pop-ing’ up among the 14- to 21-year-old crowd. You already know how this story ends. (I’ll give you a hint: It’s a Journey power ballad recently resurrected by Fox’s hit television show “Glee.”)
Despite the predictability and cheesiness of “Rock of Ages” — (you would think with Fox’s “Glee” and NBC’s “Smash,” we would be used to people singing about their feelings by now) — it does what’s any Broadway musical is designed to do. It’s a safe, crowd-pleaser — comfortable and familiar like your favorite stuffed animal, fairy tale, or Bon Jovi song. You have your young heroine who gets on a bus to follow her dreams, a rock wizard who disappointingly turns out to be no more than a man hiding behind a curtain, a budding “Rolling Stones” journalist looking for a story but falling in love instead, and an opening sequence where everyone in a moving bus starts singing. (Does it sound like the plot to “Almost Famous” yet?)
In addition to the familiarity of the story, a familiar cast of actors propels the show. Catherine Zeta-Jones is known in another musical movie role as “Chicago’s” vaudeville actress Velma Kelly. Russell Brand is known for his comedic charm in movies such as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Alec Baldwin is Jack Donaghy of NBC’s “30 Rock” and ‘brass balls’ Blake from “Glengarry Glen Ross.” (At one point, Baldwin’s character Dennis, the owner of rock ‘n’ roll club, The Bourbon Room, talks about a band named Concrete Balls.) And who could forget Tom Cruise — strutting half naked for half the movie, eluding sex, seductiveness, and vulnerability.
“Rock of Ages” is different from director and choreographer Adam Shankman’s previous canon “Hairspray” because it covers Los Angeles’ underworld — from rock ‘n’ world to prostitution — while “Hairspray” features a teen-friendly television dance show. Still, that doesn’t make the singing and dancing numbers of either any less well done. Catherine Zeta-Jones does high kicks in a skirt while singing Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Tom Cruise straddles a microphone while he sings Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Julianna Hough pole dances as she sings Journey’s “Anyway You Want It.” Diego Boneto jumps up on the table as he sings a mash-up of Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero” and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The choreography to “Rock of Ages” is fun and high energy, even if the song transitions and plot are cheap and obvious. But like watching “Glee” these days, aren’t the music and big performance numbers why you’re still tuning in in the first place? And if rock ‘n’ roll is still a disease, “Rock of Ages” is also bound to be a guilty pleasure — so bad that you can’t help but watch.
“Rock of Ages” is directed by Adam Shankman and written by Chris D’Arienzo, Allan Loeb, and Justin Theroux.