Rock of Ages

Wannabe singers Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) and Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) encounter anti-rock picketers on the Sunset Strip © 2012 Warner Bros.

(Reviewed June 15, 2012, by James Dawson)

"Rock of Ages" is so far beyond bad it's a leading contender for worst movie of the year dishonors. This painfully unfunny musical-comedy-romance is aggressively, bombastically, walk-out-early unwatchable, the kind of project that should embarrass everyone involved.

Julianne Hough, who appeared as a supporting player in 2010's similar "heartland innocent with big dreams in L.A." bomb "Burlesque," moves up to the thankless main role here. As wide-eyed Sherrie Christian, she is robbed on arrival, falls for a wannabe rocker named Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) and gets a waitress job at the Sunset Strip club where he works. Hough is even more blandly uninteresting here than she was in last year's unfortunate "Footloose" remake, which is saying something. Boneta is likewise forgettably generic.

The club is run by aging headbanger Dennis Dupree (a bewigged Alec Baldwin) and his hyperactive sidekick Lonny (Russell Brand). Their campy "I Can't Fight This Feeling" duet may be the most unfortunate man-on-man musical mistake since Jim Broadbent and Richard Roxburgh mangled "Like a Virgin" in "Moulin Rouge."

The era is the big-hair late 1980s, but "Rock of Ages" is set in some alternate past where groups such as Journey, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard seemingly don't exist even though their songs do. When Drew sings Sherrie an unfinished number he says he is writing that turns out to be "Don't Stop Believin'," it's unclear at first whether he simply is lying to impress her. He isn't; in this reality, Drew is supposed to be the song's writer. Likewise, when debauched big-name rocker Stacee Jaxx (an unconvincing Tom Cruise) performs "Paradise City," "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me," those songs apparently are not supposed to be covers of other acts' hits.

Cruise's character sums up what is most wrong with the movie. The by-the-numbers rock-god stereotype he plays seems to have been created by the squarest square in Squaresville, not by anyone with anything incisive, fresh or clever to say about the music biz or the people in it. Look, he even has a pet monkey!

The movie's pukeworthy power-ballad time period is ripe with comic possibilities, but what passes for humor here is so witless, dated and dull the movie already feels like a relic.

Catherine Zeta-Jones delivers two of the film's most jaw-droppingly awful performances as the mayor's rock-hating wife Patricia Whitmore, who heads a group of conservative women akin to the era's Parents Music Resource Council. Puritanical Patricia performs atrocious song-and-dances of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and "We're Not Gonna Take It" that will make you want to look away in appalled horror. Or maybe run away.

Mary J. Blige plays a gentleman's club manager who hires Sherrie as a waitress but tells her the real money is in "dancing." Sure enough, Sherrie soon ends up onstage in a capacity she didn't imagine when she left Oklahoma.

Malin Akerman is the movie's only bright spot. She conveys appealing tongue-in-cheek naughtiness as Rolling Stone writer Constance Sack, who becomes one of Stacee Jaxx's conquests but also appeals to his conscience. Barbie-doll soulless Hough is boring even on a stripper pole, but Akerman getting ravished on an air hockey table is both silly and sexy.

That's nowhere near enough to save this shockingly awful enterprise. Director Adam Shankman, who did such a good job of bringing the Broadway version of John Waters' "Hairspray" to the big screen in 2007, hits rock bottom with "Rock of Ages."

Back Row Reviews Grade: F