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Rock of Ages

The 1980s was a decade overstuffed with memorable, original, spellbinding music. You won’t hear any of it in Rock of Ages, adapted from a Broadway jukebox musical featuring a few dozen of the worst corporate rock songs of the late 1980s.

Okay, that’s a matter of taste. I’m sure there are people whose fond memories of the era are scored to Journey and Bon Jovi and Foreigner and Poison and the whole hair metal genre. But even those folks aren’t going to like this movie.

Set in a club on LA’s Sunset Strip circa 1987, the stage show was an affectionate parody of the era, having fun with the cheesiness of this music while recognizing that it has an effect on the audiences who grew up with it. The movie has no sense of fun at all. It takes the perfunctory plot (small-town girl comes to Hollywood to be a star, meets boy who wants to be in a rock band) that the show used as a skeleton to hang its song-and-dance numbers on and pushes it to the front. Worse, it does so with a pair of squeaky clean stars (country singer Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, a thoroughly Anglicized Mexican pop singer) who are so bland that you wonder if the tech guys have found a way to Autotune entire human beings.

The film was directed by Adam Shankman, who got his start as a choreographer. That’s hard to believe given the perfunctory way he treats his production numbers, which should have been the highlight of the movie. They’re edited so choppily that we never get a feel for them, and truncated so that they’re gone before we can enjoy them. (Most of the songs are shortened, which means we don’t have to listen to them all the way through, though it also makes room for more of them.)

Shankman’s biggest mistake is failing to take advantage of the casting coup of Tom Cruise as “rock god” Stacee Jaxx. Cruise can be a lot of fun in films that poke fun at his usual macho cockiness, like Magnolia or Knight and Day, and this certainly seemed like it would be one of those parts. Instead, it plays like a guest-starring role padded into something more substantial, asking us to care about a character that we only want to laugh at.

For that matter, no one in the cast comes off very well: The best you can say for anyone is Mary K. Blige, who given a demeaning part as a veteran stripper at least gets to show that she can sing. Too bad that’s not true of Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, whose duet of “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” as a gay ballad is just embarrassing.

How bad is it? It’s worse than Burlesque. It’s worse than The Flintstones, which I used to consider the worst movie I’d ever seen in a theater. If this had really been rock and roll, it would be better off dead.

Watch the trailer for Rock of Ages

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