The new(ish), extended trailer for Rock of Ages — the one where Tom Cruise actually sings — keeps showing up in front of all the movies I see in theaters of late. For a guy who came of age during the glam-metal era, watching the trailer is a weird, narcotic experience. Every musical beat makes me cringe; it’s all I can do to keep myself from crawling under my seat out of sheer embarrassment. It looks appalling, and the music — God, it’s atrocious. But God help me, I cannot wait to see it.
Why? In addition to the heavy dose of nostalgia — I used to wear earrings, Poison T-shirts, and chains for belts — it’s the shameless earnestness. Part of me wants to cover all the actors involved in a big blanket to protect them from an America steeped in cynicism and irony. But there’s another part of me that’s impressed with the bald audacity. It’s based on a Broadway play, and the actors involved — at least in the trailer — have embraced what it is about Broadway musicals that both turns off audiences and appeals to them: Gleeful overzealousness. The mugging, the zippy smiles, the eagerness to please. MY GOD TOM CRUISE SINGS “WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE” WITHOUT A SHIRT.
Critics are probably going to hate this movie, and maybe they should. It looks abominably cheesy, but that’s kind of why I’m so reluctantly, embarrassingly excited to see it. I want to watch credible actors embarrass themselves and do it with unashamed gusto and then I want to tell all my colleagues in the critical world to shove their bitter cynicism right up their asses.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs in Almost Famous delivered one of my all-time favorite movie lines: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.” The irony about that line is that it’s one of the coolest movie lines I’ve ever heard. But if you really want to display your “uncool” bona fides, share with someone that you want to see Rock of Ages. Is that true currency, because I’ve never felt as uncool as I do when I admit that I cannot wait to see Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta Jones, Paul Giamatti, and Mary J. Blige sing medleys of some of the worst music in the history of American rock.