The most important thing I learned from more than a decade of snarling behind the counter of three different High Fidelity-ish record shops and hiding from the real world at my college radio station is this: there is no inherent virtue in hating music that everyone else loves.
And that means there's no time here for bashing the music and debating the merits of vintage bands like Foreigner, Quarterflash or Bon Jovi. It's tempting to take an easy T-ball swing at Starship's "We Built This City," but what would be served? It's been done before. It's enough that millions of people love and continue to love these songs. Entire books have been written on the subject (here's one: Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson, a thorough and fascinating examination of Celine Dion and the adoration and hatred she inspires -- trust me, you want to read it).
There is time, however, for bashing everything else. So here goes:
Julianne Hough stars as rocker-girl Sherrie Christian. This is convenient because it allows for the use of both "Sister Christian" and "Oh Sherrie" in riveting callbacks to her name. She meets a barback (Diego Boneta) named something nobody has written a song about yet so I forgot it already. They fall in Disney Channel love on the most hygienic Sunset Strip ever created for cinema. The beleaguered bar owner (Alec Baldwin) and his TV-greasy assistant (Russell Brand) are sweet and kind and always willing to indulge everyone's dreams, whether it's Sherrie's desire to become the best waitress/Samantha Fox impersonator she can be or the boyfriend's desire to write "Don't Stop Believin'" before anyone from Journey gets a chance to think it up. In this Los Angeles, even the prostitutes are ready to lend a hand singing whatever song happens to be itching its way out of your throat. Everyone's really nice.
Except Catherine Zeta-Jones. She's Tipper Gore, if Tipper Gore had actually ever had sex with Prince and then, spurned by his temporary affections, viciously turned on him and created an organization that was part Parents Music Resource Center and part Westboro Baptist Church. At one point Jones sings "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" in a church where a giant banner of Axl Rose-like rock god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) hangs behind the pulpit. Why is this happening? What kind of church is this? Who cares, because here comes Stacee Jaxx and he's got a rhinestone goat's head attached to his junk.
Most shocking fact: Cruise is kind of great. His supporting turn as the slithering lite-metal idol is truly weird and freaky, the kind of sleep-in-a-hyperbaric-chamber fame casualty he probably is in real life. And he's surrounded by a numbskull movie that has otherwise studiously recreated everything except the rock and roll about the decade's beloved Top 40 bubblegum metal and wears those decorative signifiers of cluelessness like a chest full of medals. These doofus power ballads and crunchy stripper-pole songs deserve better, dirtier treatment.
Second shocking fact: Mary J. Blige, who was cast by director Adam Shankman in what could only have been a diva-worship conniption fit, is reduced to just another voice in the bland chorus. There's always a danger when you put a real singer in your musical and they start wiping the floor with everyone else in the room, your Jenga tower of missing-the-point topples very easily.
Meanwhile, a block down the Sunset Strip, Penelope Spheeris is shooting The Decline of Western Civilization 2: The Metal Years. In Maryland, some guys are outside a Judas Priest show making Heavy Metal Parking Lot, N.W.A. is already here, Slayer is too, Sonic Youth is recording Daydream Nation, the Pet Shop Boys are desperately seeking Dusty Springfield and Nirvana is about to put out a record called Bleach that nobody will buy for a few years. Glee hasn't been invented yet. But when it is the gates of hell will open.
This review is exactly 666 words long. You're welcome.