The 1980s are back -- sort of -- in the new movie musical Rock of Ages. This film, adapted from the Broadway play, is a series of stories based on the most popular hits of the 1980s -- all revolving around the fictional Bourbon Room club and concert venue in Hollywood, in 1987.

The first story is about young lovers. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is an aspiring singer off the bus from Okahoma who's in love with the music and clubs of Hollywood. When her suitcase is stolen, she's "rescued" by Drew (Diego Boneta), a wannabe singer and bartender at the Bourbon Room. He gets her a job there, they start dating, and he gets his big musical break. But can young love survive the pressures of fame and fortune?

Next are the Bourbon Club's owners, Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand). This pair are old-school rockers, true believers and colossal music fans. Their club is also almost bankrupt, and they're banking on a big concert (of course) to save the day. Their hopes rest on Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), the most popular rock star in America. But he's also notoriously unreliable -- and managed by the greedy, unscrupulous Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti).

And finally, there's politics. Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), wife of newly elected mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston), has decided that rock and roll is a danger to the youth of America, so she leads a moral crusade against Stacee Jaxx and the Bournob Club. (She also misses or ignores her husband's affair with his secretary every chance he gets.)

There are also some other supporting characters: Constance Sack (Malin Akerman) as the Rolling Stone reporter who breaks through Stacee's haze of fame; Justice Charlier (Mary J. Blige) as the owner of a strip club; and several cameos, from Eli Roth as a member of a boy band to Debbie Gibson as a rocker.

All of the acting, and the pretty cliches storylines, are all secondary to the music. While I think back on the 1980s as a golden time for alternative music, Rock of Ages goes for the more popular/nostalgic hits, from concert rock like Def Leppard, the Scorpions, and Whitesnake to to pop from Pat Benetar, Jefferson Starship, REO Speedwagon and Journey.

Rock of Ages is clearly aimed at the folks who think of the '80s as big hair and guys with eyeliner. To that end, the movie does capture the feel of that scene. That said, the movie does feel a little forced. Instead of a musical where the songs seem to spring naturally from the characters, Rock of Ages feels like it's just waiting for an excuse for characters to start singing. Some of the mash-ups are good (notably "Any Way You Want It" and "Harden My Heart" at a strip club), and the performers are all terrific singers, but the sudden bursts of music feel a little forced at times. (It also doesn't help that Glee beat this movie to the song for the uplifting big finale.)

The acting in Rock of Ages is as good as the story is chiched. The highlight is Tom Cruise, who captures both the decline from being a star and the passion that brought him to that level. Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta are decent as the young lovers (though I'm amazed as talented a dancer as Hough had few opportunities to dance), but Baldwin and Brand are more amusing as the true believers whose bromance may be a little more. The stories are exactly what we've seen before: the self-righteous crusader with her personal agenda, the wannabe star corrupted by business, and the young couple who connect, misunderstand, split, and find each other again. And the humor of Rock of Ages is mixed: sometimes very funny (notably a boy band, complete with ridiculous name), sometimes pretty painful (such as double entendres about a band whose name includes the word "balls").

Rock of Ages is aimed directly at the folks who are nostalgic for the most popular hits of the 1980s. It has a terrific cast and a good (if idealized) version of the rock scene back then -- but it also has some painful humor and obvious directions for its storylines. It's enjoyable -- to a point.

Overall grade: B-

Reviewed by James Lynch

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