In a world where strippers use their shoes as percussion instruments and every customer at Tower Records has an asymmetrical haircut, there lives Rock of Ages. Understanding the world it's set in is key to enjoying this movie--you'll have an easier time getting it if you're one of the gajillions of people who saw the stage show it's based on, or if you ever watched Glee and wished the stars were a little filthier and wore more leather. Warning: if you hate musicals because you've never been on a bus where the passengers randomly broke out into song, watching this movie will feel like someone is trying to ram '80s hair metal into your eyelids with a hot crimping iron.
I, however, love taking public transportation because of all the songs we sing without warning (yesterday it was Leave My iPod Alone, Hobo sung to the tune of Round and Round by Ratt), so this movie fed every desire I've ever had to see famous movie stars sing songs I love while swiveling their hips and drinking whiskey. Even though the trailer makes it seem like this is a movie about Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), a super-famous and super-strange rock star, he really only glides in and out of the story to provide a good dose of cautionary tale to all the non-famous working stiffs who adore him. Cruise's portrayal of the kooky and tortured Jaxx is believable because it's easy to imagine him drawing on his own real life experience as a superstar--there's just something about it that sometimes feels too real to be funny. Luckily, since Jaxx drags around a pet baboon named Hey Man to refresh his drinks and smack girls' spandex-clad bottoms, you're quickly reminded you're supposed to be giggling instead of feeling bad for Suri.
The main focus of the movie is, as always, a love story between two fresh-faced youths (Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta) who just want to sing until their feathered hair wilts. Although they're pleasant enough to look at, and have great voices, they're definitely the least interesting part of the story because there's so much other wacky stuff going on. Songs I normally enjoy like Harden My Heart and Every Rose Has Its Thorn in the hands of the two flat characters made me antsy, and I would rather have watched Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand crunching numbers in the upstairs office of The Bourbon Room instead. Every scene between the two of those guys made me want to yell "spinoff!"
But not everyone in the movie is shirtless and wearing leopard-print. Looking Nancy Reagan-chic in her pantsuit is the hoofer Catherine Zeta-Jones playing Patricia Whitmore, the mayor's wife, who is chomping at the bit to shut The Bourbon down. This movie made me realize how much I've missed Zeta-Jones' laser-eyes boring holes into my soul while she undulates on the screen (sigh, Chicago was so long ago). Her performance is so over the top, it matches that of Cruise nicely, not to mention the hilarious reporter Constance (Malin Ackerman) and scuzzy manger Paul (Paul Giamatti).
If the idea of listening to these iconic songs while sensing that you're about to see jazz hands break out at any second makes you start banging your head, then fork over your hard-earned money to see this--because you probably already have in some other venue. And for people who know that the actual title of that "Teenage Wasteland" song by The Who is Baba O'Reilly, who have troubling naming the local theater where the stage version of this movie played, you might want to pass. But if you're an open-minded newcomer like me, the movie has about as much friction as two stonewashed jean-jackets rubbing up against each other and is just as much fun.