|“Rock of Ages” wastes no time in cueing the audience it’s a musical set in the 1980s.
Just seconds after its central character, doe-eyed innocent Sherrie (Julianne Hough), steps onto the bus that will take her from the sleepy Midwest to the hustle and bustle of Hollywood, it busts out with a sprawling medley of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian,” David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise” and Poison’s “Nothin’ But a Good Time.”
Based on the Broadway hit about the rambunctious rock ‘n’ roll scene of the Sunset Strip in 1987, the movie is wall to wall with tunes originally performed by Def Leppard, Foreigner, Guns N’ Roses, Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi and other groups from a time when MTV rumbled with hair-band thunder.
Director Adam Shankman steers the ship with the same sense of singing, dancing playfulness and melodrama he also brought to the TV series “Glee” and the 2007 movie version of “Hairspray.”
It’s a showy and over the top with highs, lows, laughs and some truly fist-pumping performances from a diverse cast of familiar actors, most of them in roles requiring some serious belting and hoofing – this is, after all, a musical originally made for the wide-open spaces of the stage.
On the tip-top of the star stack is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, Tom Cruise.
His gonzo portrayal of rock god Stacee Jaxx, the tattooed, serpentine, sex-oozing superstar around which the story revolves, is jaw dropping.
Chiseled into a shape that would shame many actors half his age, Cruise throws himself into the role, bejeweled devil-faced codpiece, revealing leather chaps, pistol-totin’-baboon-sidekick and all. And when he spews out “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” it’s one riotously ripe slice of prime-cut, primo rock opera.
Mr. Mission Impossible will get most of the buzz, but there are plenty of other props to spread around.
Alec Baldwin is a big-haired hoot as the proprietor of the rock nightclub where all the action goes down. British comedian Russell Brand plays his right-hand man, and together, they provide much of the movie’s comedic punch – and one of its biggest surprises.
Hough, a veteran of TV’s “Dancing With the Stars” and the star of last year’s “Footloose,” sings her heart out.
Catherine Zeta-Jones sassily throws down the gauntlet as a zealous anti-rock crusader. Newcomer Diego Bonita plays a busboy with big dreams, and Paul Giamatti is a hardball manager who cares more about the money than the music.
Grammy award-winning artist Mary J. Blige makes a late entrance but leaves a lasting vocal impression as the tough-cookie proprietress who becomes a mentor to Sherrie.
Watch closely for cameos by real-life ‘80 singer Debbie Gibson, Sebastian Bach of Skid Row and Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon.
Purists may quibble that not all the songs featured were from 1987 or were from bands that never actually made the L.A. scene.
But you know what? So what. “Rock of Ages” celebrates youthful passion, cultural rebellion and changing times with an energy, enthusiasm and head-banging fun that’s downright contagious.
So, to quote one of its nearly 40 songs, “Come on – feel the noise.”