Others may see "Rock of Ages" as a fun romp but Tom Cruise approaches it with all the seriousness of a Bret Michaels.
Clad in leather chaps and a fluffy Axl Rose fur, he gives the film real street cred. The rest of the cast? They're in an '80s version of "Grease."
Filled with dozens of songs from the era (too many songs, really), "Ages" barely bothers with a plot. The non-sung portions are more like connective tissue, holding a "greatest hits" album together until each cut is flexed.
Occasionally, songs like "We're Not Going to Take It" comment on the action but, for the most part, they're there just to be included.
Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta play a pair of young lovers who meet circa 1987 in Los Angeles, home to the demon rock music. There, Alec Baldwin runs a club that gave Cruise's Jaxx his big start. Unfortunately, there's a crusading mayor's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who wants to shut it down. She has a hidden agenda but only rears her protests when Hough, Boneta and Cruise are between numbers.
Mary J. Blige turns up as well as the queen of a strip joint. She gets a couple of choruses and serves as Hough's spiritual adviser.
Russell Brand steps in as comic relief for Baldwin -- who's really miscast and it shows.
Only Cruise -- who never lets the rock star god guise fall -- plays this for all its worth. He's so utterly believable you want him to play Jim Morrison. His singing is pretty good, too. And when he partners with Malin Akerman (as an unlikely Rolling Stone reporter), "Ages" makes you squirm.
Director Adam Shankman -- who did a great job with "Hairspray" -- cell phones this one in. His choreography is either repetitive or derivative; his pace is more predictable than a Gaga concert.
While Hough and Boneta are supposed to be the film's key characters, they're often forgotten -- just so Paul Giamatti can get in a few evil lines as Cruise's smarmy manager. For the first time in film history, Giamatti is overused.
The film has a few cute bits about the era (note the hair, the clothes and the video game references) but doesn't really jab it like the Broadway production of "Xanadu."
"Rock of Ages" needed more tongue in cheek, less tongue in other person's cheek.
It's dirty at times, absurd at others. Because it has so many different tones, the film looks like it was shot by different people. It's a "Glee" episode without the "Glee" kids.
"Rock of Ages" entertains -- in a nostalgic way -- but whenever Cruise isn't around, it's like seeing a band without its lead singer -- there in name only.