Welcome to the jungle
Singing along with Tom Cruise and the crappy music from the ’80s
With his scaling of the tallest building in the world for last year’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and now his crazily good turn as singer Stacee Jaxx in the musical movie Rock of Ages, Tom Cruise has transformed himself into Hollywood’s greatest stuntman.
It took some big nuts to propel himself off of the Burj Khalifa tower in that harrowing, all-time classic sequence, and now he has learned to sing and play some guitar for his latest flick. It’s like he’s going down a list of crazy stuff to do in a movie and just picking them off one by one.
And he’s not just crooning soft ballads. He’s belting out some of the biggest crap rock of the ’80s with a voice that’s some sort of blessed convergence of Axl Rose and Vince Neil. Cruise can sing!
His magnificent rock act is surrounded by a movie that’s fun, but not nearly as good as him. Adapted from the Broadway play and directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray), the plot is your typical “girl comes from a small town to make it in Hollywood” story that has been told a thousand times before. It’s just never featured Cruise in a fur coat accompanied by a rambunctious, well-dressed baboon.
Sherrie Christian (a likeable Julianne Hough), wannabe singer, starts the film out on a bus, getting fellow travelers and even the driver to join her for a rousing rendition of “Sister Christian,” a goofy yet infectious scene that sets the tone for the movie.
All of the action winds up at The Bourbon Room where owner Dennis Dupree (a shaggy Alec Baldwin) is trying to avert financial disaster. His last big hope is the final performance of huge metal band Arsenal before their singer, Stacee Jaxx, goes solo. Sherrie gets a job at the Bourbon thanks to a chance meeting with Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), another up-and-coming singer trying to make it in the big city.
The paint-by-numbers plot assembled by a team of screenwriters including Justin Theroux (Iron Man 2, Tropic Thunder) is just a place setter for musical numbers featuring tunes by Def Leppard, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, etc. There’s an occasional good joke about drinking or puking, but this is mostly a reason for big stars to lip synch admirably to their own vocal tracks.
And let it be said that I detest hair rock—deplore it. When characters in this movie talk about the power of rock ’n’ roll, I couldn’t help but think, “Where’s Led Zeppelin or The Who?”
This plastic music was all the wow during my teen and college years, a fact that still frightens and disturbs me. Oh sure, the occasional Guns N’ Roses or Leppard song was OK, but holy hell, Poison and Mötley Crüe almost killed me. And Starship? This is the umpteenth movie to use what is easily the worst song ever recorded by anybody, “We Built This City.” Hell, the Muppets had it in their movie last year!
The fact that I still enjoyed a movie where this music is prominently featured says a lot for the cast of singers, including Cruise, Russell Brand and Malin Akerman as a Rolling Stone reporter who shares a funny sex scene with Cruise that includes him using her ass as a microphone.
A song that has always pissed me off is “Wanted Dead or Alive,” with loser Jon Bon Jovi likening himself to a gunfighter with his oh so burdensome rock career. Yet, when Cruise sings it in this movie, it takes on awesome life. He, quite frankly, puts Mr. Bon Jovi to shame. I can honestly say, this is the first time I’ve enjoyed listening to that particular track.
If you go to this movie, go knowing that you will see and hear some amazing stuff from Mr. Cruise. Otherwise, Rock of Ages is just a mildly enjoyable musical goof, sort of like The Beatles Across the Universe movie, but with far crappier songs.