So this is how the Boomers felt when Cirque du Soleil opened a Beatles tribute show in Vegas.
Contrasting an impossibly innocent love story with a decidedly not innocent soundtrack from the likes of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, and Guns N Roses, the movie is a thumping trip down nostalgia lane, but one you’ll want to take without the kiddos, despite its PG-13 rating.
Sex, drugs, and rock n roll?
They got the rock n roll down, left out the drugs entirely, and cranked up the sex to 11.
Telling the story of the song that makes the finale, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is just a small town girl, living in a lonely world. Drew (Diego Boneta) is just a city boy, born and raised in some vague place. They both took the midnight train going, well, as it turns out, to Los Angeles.
And Sherrie’s was a bus, but that’s beside the point.
They meet up in a rock bar called the Bourbon, chock full of black leather, teased hair, headbanger sweat, and big dreams. Run by two aging rockers (Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand), the bar is all about the music, man. It is decidedly not about paying taxes on time.
Financial salvation comes in the form of a friend who’s made it big, huge, so big he doesn’t know what continent he’s on half the time. Stacee Jaxx, played by Tom Cruise, is the best thing about the movie, kind of like watching Cruise play Johnny Depp playing Keith Richards, but in a good way. He staggers into the bar, clad in fur and a ruby-studded skull codpiece, trailed by a monkey he calls “Hey, Man.” As in “Hey, Man, get me whiskey.”
It’s all silly and over the top as a good hair band should be.
After all, they’re creating fantasy just as escapist as a Disney princess or a Marilyn Monroe: The fantasy of an epically bad, naughty, sex-fueled rebellion in which one party flows into the next and no one ever has to deal with a dentist, a wife, the DMV, or a hangover.
What’s a fantasy about rebellion without something against which to rebel? Cue the sanctimonious church ladies led by Catherine Zeta-Jones whose virulent protests only mask a potent stew of ambition and raw sexual desire for Jaxx.
They’re all hypocrites, that’s a given.
All this is played out in elaborate set pieces as characters mix, mash, and belt favorite rock anthems. Any time the audience starts to get a little antsy, the film launches into Pat Benatar or Whitesnake or Foreigner. The pros on the soundtrack excel – Mary J. Blige as the soulful matron of a strip joint and lead Diego Boneta, a certified singer in Mexico. Tom Cruise is surprisingly effective, especially when he belts out “Pour Some Sugar on Me” on stage. Hough has a nice vulnerability to her voice. Everybody is passable, but you probably will leave the theater wanting to download the originals instead of the covers.
The music makes it fun, so very fun, for we Gen Xers struggling to come to terms with middle age. There was a time when we rocked, or at least wanted to.
Parents should be aware, however, that the film, in homage to its subject matter, is highly sexualized. It’s silly most of the time, but sexy silly. So we have Jaxx making his bed using scantily clad beauties as pillows. And blankets. In fact, his whole existence is a blur of lingerie models punctuated by glimpses of Hey Man. It’s like living at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
What’s more, characters act out sexual acts, stripped down to their skivvies, in great detail, all the while singing.
In fact, I’m not exactly sure how it got the PG-13 rating. Probably because none of these bad to the bone characters utters a forbidden word or snorts anything other than laughter.
Your comfort level with the film will depend on how seriously you take it. Viewed one way, it’s a lark, a breezy, cheerful hyperbole in which two pure loving souls drift through gleeful mayhem.
A version of the Muppets, if you will, but with more sweat.
If you take it seriously, you’ll agree with the church ladies and play right into the movie’s hands.
Me? I had a good time. All these songs that promised debauchery recalled, for me and I suspect for many of us, lonely walks with my WalkMan or high school dances or that summer by the lake.
We weren’t really much in the way of rebels, but it was nice to know rebellion was there in the music when we needed a dose of it. Turns out, rebellion is much better in fantasy than in fact.