Saturday, June 16, 2012

‘Poisoned’ dreams, transformative ‘Journey’

As ‘80s rock star Stacee Jaxx, Tom Cruise swaggers a la Iggy Pop-slash-Axl Rose onstage, an icon that dreamers aspire to be (or sleep with) in the cute, if unnecessarily lengthy movie musical “Rock of Ages.” 

Between videoke-ish interpretations of some of the era’s defining rock songs is a clichéd story about aspiring singers who dream of making it big, but are hindered by typical obstacles. Two Bourbon Room bar employees, Sherrie and Drew (Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta), quickly become lovers, but their relationship and dreams change forever upon meeting rock deity Stacee Jaxx. More intriguingly, it also delves into Jaxx’s mindset, sharing his unique perspective when confronted by a knowledgeable journalist, Constance (Malin Akerman).

Based on Chris D'Arienzo's well-received musical of the same title and set in 1987, the so-called “jukebox musical” compresses a number of glam rock songs into its two-hour running time, aptly flavoring the movie’s emotionally driven moments. Songs by Pat Benatar, Journey, Def Leppard, Poison, and other acts from the period and beyond (Extreme’s “More Than Words” is from the early ‘90s) get mostly listenable versions by the cast. Performances by Catherine Zeta-Jones, (“Hit Me with Your Best Shot”), Cruise (“Pour Some Sugar on Me”), and Hough, Boneta and Mary J. Blige (“Every Rose Has Its Thorn”) make it hard not to toe-tap, or even sing along to the inevitably less edgy translations.

While the music video-esque numbers and montages speed things up, the story gets too stretched out. There are some awkward lulls between songs, the semi-problematic pacing keeping the film from becoming truly enjoyable. Still, its cast is praiseworthy; Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, and the aforementioned actors are collectively diverting enough as various characters working at or passing by the controversial, Sunset Strip-based bar.

The transformations of Sherrie and Drew are particularly sad and sometimes hilarious; Hough and newcomer Boneta (he looks like a hairier, edgier Jay Mohr) are charming as the underdog lovers whose dreams of career greatness are initially quashed. And the flawed but feelgood movie is likewise cute, and rocks safely at expected intervals. 

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