Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
Rock of Ages

Title: Rock of Ages

So Is It Cop Rock Bad? I don't know. Was Cop Rock bad?

Are You Kidding? Sue me, I didn't watch it when it came out, and I'll be damned if I'm going to add that to a DVR crammed full of tow-truck shows and duck dynasties.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Two cans of Aqua Net out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, who becomes a stripper until he earns his redemption at the hands of hair metal. A 50-year-old Tom Cruise spends the entire movie shirtless.

Tagline: "Nothin' but a good time."

Better Tagline: "Gunter glieben glauben globen."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Fresh-faced Sherrie Christian has just lit out from the safe-yet-crushingly dull environs of rural Oklahoma to taste the sweet brass ring of success in Los Angeles (this also allows the use of Night Ranger's "Sister Christian," which is a song I know most of us have really been wanting to hear again). She soon makes the acquaintance of young Drew (newcomer Diego Boneta, who looks distractingly like Jay Mohr), a barback at the Strip's fabled "Bourbon Room" with similar dreams of rock glory. Complicating matters is the club's tax problem, but owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and assistant Lonny Barnett (Russell Brand) are confident a gig by legendary rocker Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) will fill the coffers sufficiently to stave off their creditors and also the forces of righteousness led by Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones). It's basically Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo with Poison songs.

"Critical" Analysis: One of the reasons live musicals work (when they do) is that they're, you know, *live*. Even the hokiest material can often be forgiven when someone of sufficient talent and charisma is up on stage delivering it.

Conversely, weak lyrics and story are even more noticeable when that immediacy is lost. It's the reason film producers often choose to dub in someone else's singing voice for the leads in their movie musical numbers. Marni Nixon, most famously, provided the singing voices for Anna in The King and I, Maria in West Side Story and Eliza in My Fair Lady (roles made famous by Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn, respectively).

This is all leading to an obvious question: With a narrative framework as gossamer flimsy as Rock of Ages,' why wouldn't you bring in some actual voice talent for some (*cough* Tom Cruise *cough*) of the leads? I mean, Jaxx is supposedly a living and (barely) breathing amalgam of Axl Rose, Robert Plant and Jon Bon Jovi, which is hard to reconcile with Cruise's uncomfortably high-pitched nasal whine.

I focus on vocals (Zeta-Jones, Brand and Mary J.Blige = good, Cruise, Boneta and Baldwin = not so much) because going after the story is a pointless exercise. Of course the Bourbon Room is saved and Sherrie and Drew overcome the Three's Company-style misunderstanding that tore them apart. Of course Jaxx finds love and redemption in the hands of a Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman), of course Patricia has a secret past that drives her hatred of metal, and of course Cranston is utterly wasted as a tough-talking politician who secretly likes getting spanked by his secretary.

Though I think we all know how that feels.

And while "rock" may be the cornerstone of the show, nobody's going to any great lengths to veer outside the Billboard Top 50. In one scene, the Bourbon Room marquee advertises upcoming shows by punk legends Bad Religion, thrash metal progenitors Exciter and sleaze rockers Jetboy. All well and good, but you'll have to leave the theater to hear any of their music. What do we get instead, in this ostensible tribute to the '80s L.A. scene? Like, I can understand not wanting to burden the soundtrack with *just* hair metal, as that might get tiresome. Likewise, the inclusion of tracks by the likes of Pat Benatar and Joan Jett is understandable from the perspective of providing some needed counterpoint to the era's rampant testosterone, and is also temporally accurate.

But Jesus Christ, people...REO Speedwagon? Foreigner (three songs, no less)? Fucking STARSHIP? Didn't the International Court of Justice at the Hague declare "We Built This City" the audio equivalent of a war crime? And can we finally declare a similar moratorium on Journey? I'm not sure when Escape became the apex of rock music, but maybe it's time we stopped believing.

There are elements of fun to be had -- Brand's performance is actually surprisingly enjoyable, and Cruise infuses Jaxx with more self-deprecation than I thought him capable of -- and while I have no issues with Mary K. Blige, I don't know if casting her was a great idea, as she just flat-out destroys everyone else's singing. In any case, a little more sleaze and a little less cliché would've gone a long way.

See It/Rent It/Skip It: Meh. Hough is admittedly pretty cute, but I'd just go check out The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years again.

Rock of Ages is in theaters today. Seriously, try not to think of Jay Mohr when you look at that kid.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar