I stopped watching Glee somewhere around its third season, right around the time it reached that irreversible breaking point where kitsch outweighed quality many times over. But just when my left eye stopped twitching, along comes Rock of Ages, the big-screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical directed by Adam Shankman, who helmed the movie version of Hairspray as well as a few episodes of Glee.
That TV show's overlord of songs, Adam Anders, serves as Rock of Ages' executive music producer, and the film's choreographer, Mia Michaels, has worked with Shankman on So You Think You Can Dance. It's no surprise then, that this razor-thin story — about an idealistic, fresh-off-the-bus bottle blonde (Julianne Hough) who lands a job at the glam haven Bourbon Room, falls for a musically confused busboy and, naturally, ends up a stripper — feels from start to finish like a glossy approximation of the 1980s Sunset Strip era and attitude it's supposed to pay homage to. In other words, it's a jumbo-sized Glee tribute to the Strip.
Besides Russell Brand, who plays an assistant to Alec Baldwin's mom-jeans-sporting club owner, every single writhing body populating the joint looks like a professional pop dancer, especially Hough, who never stops glittering. And the mash-up-heavy songs never surprise, strung together by the same flimsy, highly illogical story threads that made me quit Glee.
And then there's Tom Cruise, who overstays his welcome as a booze-and-sex-obsessed rock god with the unbearably stupid name Stacee Jaxx. His big plot narrative involves the seduction of a Rolling Stone reporter played by Malin Akermann, who also happens to be wearing a Catholic schoolgirl uniform.
In the end, it's all just too goddamn much. I can understand the banal dialogue — the audience isn't listening to it anyway. I can even forgive the cheesy reverence for only the poppiest of the rock music of the era. But can someone explain why Shankman, an openly out LGBT activist, would goad that same audience to laugh and shout in disgust (yep, that still happens today) at Baldwin and Brand's climactic make-out session by sending up the very idea of the relationship?
They're the movie's only characters with any real depth to them, and they're made to exchange messy tongue laps — outside the mouth at that — when they finally acknowledge their attraction, which is hinted at throughout the film. Yes, Cruise and the reporter do the same, but they do much more besides and only break for the gag so the movie can earn its PG-13 rating. Rock of Ages isn't a musical. It's a cynical ploy: a visual guide to a karaoke video game. Just like its small-screen cousin.