Hair metal is to rock and roll what strip clubs are to dancing. There may be some talent lurking within (Guns n' Roses, Def Leppard), but the entire industry is little more than dolled-up, tarted-up exercises in artifice.
And watching actors portray actors who were portraying rock stars in the first place is essentially like watching a Kidz Bop music video with a bit more hairspray and leather jackets - in other words, it feels so homogeneously safe and removed from its source that the danger and passion that served as its inspiration has been worn down like an eyeliner pencil in a Poison dressing room.
And while it all is aptly at home as a showy stage play, a cinematic version of it only further distances the whole affair, especially when its leads are just as empty as the songs that blare on its soundtrack.
Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is just a small-town girl, fresh off the bus in seedy L.A., with stardom in her eyes and not a rational thought in her head. She meets cute with Drew (played by Diego Boneta), who also dreams of being a jukebox hero. Until then, he’s slinging dishes as The Bourbon Room, a local nightclub that is barely staying afloat despite the best efforts of owner Dennis (played by Alec Baldwin). Also flitting about the “Rock of Ages” stage are a sleazy politician (played by an underused Brian Cranston) trolling for re-election and using rock music as his political grenade, his Bible-thumping conservative wife (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones), and, of course, Stacie Jaxx (played by Tom Cruise).
Jaxx is the embodiment of all the excess and access that all those pretty-boy model rockers of the era personified. Cruise certainly has a ball with the role, whispering his cosmically nonsensical lines as if permanently affixed to a heroin drip, but you never once forget that it's Cruise. He's in fantastic shape, with quite an appropriately screechy rocker voice, and every bit a movie star, but never once convinces the viewer that he's a raunchy rocker.
The music numbers are nothing if not frequent. Chances are, if you are fan of the era and that brand of music, it's like hearing a cover band performing each and every favorite number just for you. But director Adam Shankman has one too many coins for this jukebox, and soon you are inundated with songs that are certainly era-specific, but are about as rock as Rebecca Black (Quarterflash? Jefferson Starship?).
There are moments that sparkle like a sequin, but are gone just as quickly. The "I Want to Know What Love Is" duet between Cruise and Malin Ackerman as a Rolling Stone reporter generate flares of sexual electricity, but it's over before things get started.
At one point in the film, Drew is lamenting his descent into boy band material in an effort to promote his music. He is sitting in his room, in which hangs a poster that reads. 'Not Fakin' It,' but that is precisely what the entire ‘80s glam-rock scene did. It was the kids in the classroom who thought the louder he got, the funnier he was.
Jefferson Starship may have built this city on rock and roll, but "Rock of Ages" was constructed with a far flimsier foundation.