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updated: 6/14/2012 12:14 PM

'Rock of Ages' never embraces the cheese factor

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  • Superstar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) hits the notes out of the auditorium in the rock musical "Rock of Ages."

    Superstar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) hits the notes out of the auditorium in the rock musical "Rock of Ages."

  • Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta) fall in love in L.A. in "Rock of Ages."

    Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta) fall in love in L.A. in "Rock of Ages."

  • Video: "Rock of Ages" trailer


Gee, and the previews made it look so good, too.

The hit Broadway musical "Rock of Ages" comes to the silver screen as the kind of embarrassing motion picture where audiences laugh in the wrong spots and different scenes appear to have been created for completely different movies.

"Rock of Ages" boasts a solid cast -- with a self-effacing performance by a fearless, singing Tom Cruise as rock god Stacee Jaxx -- a few moments of genuine hilarity and a soundtrack crammed with 1980s chart-topping hits.

Yet, this fitful production, riddled with quick cuts, whip zooms and bad hair, doesn't much rock or roll under the languid, flatlined direction of Adam "Hairspray" Shankman, who plays this delightfully cheesy musical dead straight instead of giving it the raucous "Airplane" or "Naked Gun" treatment that it cries out for.

If real rock 'n' roll is about rebellion, freedom and in-your-face honesty, then Shankman has neutered the genre with PG-13-rated editing that reduces it to laughable blandness. (This movie gives L.A. its only strip club where none of the dancers takes off anything. Ever.)

The story follows a time-honored formula of a small-town girl who arrives in L.A. with dreams of being a star, but winds up in a men's club doing things she never imagined, like climb up on a pole, but never actually move.

Call this movie "Showgirls" on Xanax.

The charismatic Julianne Hough of TV's "Dancing With the Stars" and the respectable remake of "Footloose" plays Sherrie Christian, fresh off the bus in 1987 L.A. and only two songs away from finding true love with adorably boring Drew Boley (Diego Boneta).

He works at the infamous Bourbon Room run by tired rock aficionado Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his energetic assistant Lonny (Russell Brand, who apparently is contracted to appear in every movie made about rock music).

Drew gets Sherrie a job at the Bourbon Room. Things go well enough for everyone to break into a rendition of "Nothin' But a Good Time."

Then, in the story's most ridiculous twist, the mayor's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones in impressive performance mode) announces a campaign to clean up The Strip, wipe out the evil Bourbon Room and take down the king of decadence himself, Stacee Jaxx.

This stale, moralistic plot might have worked in a story set in Cleveland, or perhaps in the next remake of "Footloose," but 1987 L. A.?

The premise at least provides Zeta-Jones and her fellow female moral guardians the chance to "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" in some of the worst pleated costumes ever designed for singing dancers.

When Stacee Jaxx, reeking of sex and booze, shows up to perform at the Bourbon Room, he's interviewed by the least professional journalist in the history of the free press, Constance Sack (Malin Akerman), a Rolling Stone writer who asks bad questions, lectures Jaxx on his shortcomings, then, in a sequence that skirts an R-rating, tries to have sex with him to the tune of "I Want to Know What Love Is."

Cruise has a ball in this movie as a burned-out legend recalling Jim Morrison mixed with Axl Rose. Accompanied by garish tattoos, a screeching pet monkey, a satanic cod piece and a greedy manager (a singing Paul Giamatti), Cruise's Jaxx captures a rock god in decline at a time when boy bands threaten to undermine the soul of rock 'n' roll.

Mary J. Blige's splendid vocals are a nice addition to the soundtrack, but her role as the understanding strip club manager seems to be one step above the madam at a house of ill repute.

The lively Hough sings and dances with conviction, but her scenes with Boneta are vapid, empty exchanges suggesting none of the passion or connection that these characters should possess.

Boneta's Drew thinks the worst when he spots Sherrie and Jaxx coming out of a room and he's adjusting his codpiece. Drew breaks it off with Sherrie right then.

Much later, the two accidentally run into each other at the famous Hollywood sign on the hill and confess what they've become.

"I'm a stripper at the Venus Club," she says with shame in her voice.

"I'm in a boy band," he says with shame in his voice.

"You win!" she says.

Good, because no one else does.

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