Rock of Ages
Oh, to be an ’80s kid again. Tease the hair with a can full of Aquanet, hike the denim shorts, tie a knot in the front of your shirt and jam to Journey and Pat Benatar with your fist held high. It was glam rock’s heyday, and that’s the spirit Rock of Ages tries to capture as the phenomenon moves from the Broadway stage onto the big screen.
It’s a story about … well … who cares. You never really invest in the plot, because that’s not the point. It’s the journey, not the destination.
The movie version stays true to its Broadway predecessor, running successfully in NYC and now on a U.S. tour for the past three years. The speaking scenes are full of bad puns and 80’s one-liners. The joke about Michael Jackson “looking pale” will make you cringe. But when the musical numbers hit -– and they hit a lot -– you forget where you are, and forget to care about the terrible dialogue.
Everyone is completely over-the-top, and it’s delicious. The rock god role played by Tom Cruise is Stacee Jaxx, the Axl Rose-Bret Michaels hybrid submerged in a pool of booze, sporting a jewel-encrusted pair of assless chaps.
Then there’s Catherine Zeta-Jones, a former groupie now protesting the sin and depravity of rock and roll on LA’s Sunset Strip. The woman has no shame as she gyrates to the image of the rock god she’s trying to bring down.
The love story is provided by Hollywood ingénue Julianne Hough, who already hooked the hearts of teenage boys everywhere in Footloose. Her Romeo is Diego Boneta, a newcomer who might as well be crowned the new Zac Efron. Ah, to be young, in love, in the 80’s, with great hair.
The side roles are fun, too. Paul Giamatti exploits everyone’s desire for fame, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand play off each other for laughs, and Malin Akerman is a sexed-up Rolling Stone reporter. Who knew she could sing? Also keep an eye out for a few true rocker cameos.
Every song is a cover of the best of ’80s rock. Some are mashups, some are straight homage. The choreography from Mia Michaels of So You Think You Can Dance fame is a little obvious, but again, this is pure camp. The nudity in the film is not overt, but you’ll see plenty of backside and an astonishing amount of stimulated sex. Director Adam Shankman was clearly trying hard to make this a good time for teens AND their parents.
The film isn’t being received well by critics, who complain about the cheese factor and the ridiculousness of some of the plot twists. Um, have you seen Mamma Mia? This is Mamma Mia repurposed for an LA rock club, and it’s just as fun, and just as silly. Lighten up. Some movies are meant to be escapist fare, never to be taken seriously. Those critics are missing the point.
All I know is, when the movie was over and I was back in the real world, the first thing I did was crank some Led Zeppelin in the car and sing at the top of my lungs. If this movie serves as the vehicle for tweens to rediscover truly great music, then it’s done enough. Go find the real thing. Go see Journey and Pat Benatar at the State Fair later this summer, like I’ll be doing. Appreciate the nostalgia, and all that hairspray.
That’s My Boy
Finally, Adam Sandler produces a film combining lowbrow humor with a high gross-out factor, bringing about a dozen of his closest Hollywood friends along for the zany ride.
This is sarcasm, of course, since Sandler has been making the same movie since Billy Madison in 1995. For the fans who know what they’re in for, however, it’s a fun ride.
Sandler plays a teen shot into notoriety when he sleeps with his teacher -– a very grown-up Eva Amurri Martino -– and gets her pregnant. His SNL doppelganger, funnyman Andy Samberg, plays his son. (The kid playing a young Sandler also bears an astonishing resemblance.) His subsequent failures as a father lead up to an attempt at a reunion at Samberg’s wedding. Dad owes the IRS money and needs cash fast, and Samberg is a bitter rich kid who could be his ticket out of jail. But Samberg’s character is plagued by memories of being raised by a drunk pops and an equally depraved Vanilla Ice. He’s a family friend. Just go with it.
Also making appearances are Todd Bridges, Sandler’s entire family, and James Caan, with one of the worst Irish accents I’ve ever heard. There are many others, but why spoil the fun? That’s My Boy relies on visual gags, a few choice one-liners and a wedding freak-out full of flying fists and off-color jokes. The old gang is back, and it’s almost nostalgic now to see some of the same faces who have appeared in You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, The Hot Chick and other award-winning films. There’s that sarcasm again.
My only real complaint, since I never expected much out of the movie, is Sandler’s voice. That high-pitched baby voice he does grates on the nerves; plus, he’s sporting a version of the Little Nicky haircut. Any reference to that movie should be boiled in a vat of holy water. Cut your hair and speak like a grownup. And don’t expect too many in the audience for this film.