Let me be clear: I hate the 80′s. I was a teenager for most of that decade, and other than harboring a secret, verboten love for the band Rush that will never die, I have no desire whatsoever to return to the era of big hair, bandannas, and rock band pin-covered denim vests. Despite the fact that, from 1984 to mid-1985, I had big hair, wore lots of bandannas, and was rarely seen without my rock band pin-covered denim vest. It was a Me that I buried long ago: the high school freshman metalhead kid who left this world when his new, sophisticated sophomore self discovered R.E.M. and U2. So, like many reviewers and website commenters, I was fully prepared to hate Rock of Ages. Seeing it was inevitable—my wife grew up in Los Angeles and counts Guns ‘n Roses drummer Steven Adler’s little brother among her 80s friends. She had emotional ties to the Hair Band Era, while I preferred to forget that I ever had Motley Crue and Quiet Riot albums in my record collection. I agreed to see Rock of Ages with her after work yesterday at our local luxury movie theater, the Cinepolis; it has a full bar, and there are servers who bring you drinks during the movie. (Yes, it is The Greatest Thing Ever.) I figured a good buzz might ease the pain of sitting through two hours of Poison, Def Leppard, and Warrant songs.
Two hours later, I left the theater with a huge smile on my face, and “Nothin’ But A Good Time” happily bouncing around in my head. (And I only had one drink.)
The opening scene attempts to steal Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” back from Paul Thomas Anderson, who used it brilliantly in Boogie Nights. It’s 1987, blond hottie Julianne Hough (playing, of course, Sherrie Christian) is on a crowded bus to LA, she starts singing the song, and one by one the passengers join in. It’s ridiculous, cheesy—and I was hooked. As far as plots go, there’s absolutely nothing original going on here: country girl travels to Hollywood to make it big as singer, meets boy with same aspirations, they meet-cute, fall in love, get into a fight, break up, get back together, and realize their dreams. Only in this case, it’s like watching a two-hour long MTV music video from 1987. (I realize that some readers may not remember the days when MTV actually played music videos. See, a music video was like a short film…oh, never mind.)
But one doesn’t go to a “good bad” movie (and I’m not sure this qualifies as a bad movie, as it’s entirely too self-aware and in on its own jokey premise) for the plot. In this case, one goes to see Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as the very funny bosses of The Bourbon Room, a thinly veiled version of L.A.’s famous Whiskey A-Go-Go, Paul Giamatti as a slimy band manager, Catherine Zeta-Jones as a very repressed Tipper Gore/Church Lady type, and, of course, Tom Cruise as a burned-out old rocker. I’ve said this before: say what you will about Cruise in real life, the dude never, ever phones in a performance. Quite the opposite—he goes balls out (somewhat literally) here, channeling Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison and real-life Iggy Pop. And the dude can actually sing.
Look, I get why so many people hated the movie—over at one of my other favorite pop culture sites, the review of the film is up to 661 comments, with 660 of the commenters attempting to come up with new and clever ways to trash it. It’s a jukebox musical that celebrates perhaps the lamest music of the 20th century. Every bad 80s hair band song you think will be in the movie is in the movie (plus a couple of Foreigner songs, and one REO Speedwagon tune that takes on an entirely new dimension). It’s not a stretch to envision this movie as the successor to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But listening to the movie’s band Von Colt (or Van Colt, doesn’t make a difference) belt out Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” took me back to a carefree time when I wore stupid clothes, had stupid hair, listened to stupid music, and absolutely did not give a rat’s (Ratt’s?) ass about what anyone thought. And I wasn’t the only one giving the goat in that dark movie theater.