BY THE TIME the hair-rock musical "Rock of Ages" concludes its two-hour journey with Journey, you realize "Don't Stop Believin'? " has become our de facto national anthem.
At this point, we should just make it official. "The Star-Spangled Banner," our multi-octave nightmare about rockets and bombs, is too long, too hard to sing. It causes vocal chords to burst in midair; people keep forgetting the words.
And it keeps our athletes on the podium for far too long. Imagine how much more fun the London Olympics would be if our champions were rocking out on air guitar, singing about rolling the dice one more time, wanting a thrill. Nobody forgets the words to "Believin,' ?" no matter how hard they try.
Sticking point — apparently, "south Detroit" is really Windsor, Ontario.
Still, the song is anthemic, one of several such tunes that adorn "Rock of Ages," adapted from the hit Broadway play. In movie form, most of the semi-sad parts (drug overdoses, middle age) have been taken out, leaving a chirpy, upbeat star vehicle that aims to do for arena rock what Meryl Streep and "Mamma Mia" did for ABBA.
Alas, I wouldn't forecast anything like the HALF A BILLION "Mamma Mia" made. "Rock," if anything, is a little overloaded with star power. The central story — that of a small-town girl (Julianne Hough) living in a lonely world (Oklahoma) who takes a midnight train going anywhere (Los Angeles) and falls for a city boy (Diego Boneta) — gets smothered by a mother lode of star "support" (Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Mary J. Blige, Catherine Zeta Jones).
The love story fades to the background as we gawk at frolicking celebrities — bewigged Alec Baldwin as a club manager (with sidekick Brand) banking his club's future on an appearance by legendary rocker and human train wreck Stacee Jaxx (Cruise).
Cruise has a naked torso throughout, wears leather pants that expose his butt cheeks, and does his best to be a drunken womanizer. All in all, I'd call this the least convincing portrait of debauchery since Michael J. Fox played a coke fiend in "Bright Lights, Big City."
The reason 50-year-old Cruise can walk around with is shirt off, of course, is that he's a teetotalling health nut who's been eating boneless, skinless chicken and kale soup and doing Pilates for 30 years. I don't know if you can play an '80s has-been if you're an '80s icon who's shown no visible signs of aging.
Still, Tussaud Tom and his auto-tuned voice do OK with "Wanted Dead or Alive." Musically, "Rock of Ages" is fun. It turns rock standards into conjoined twins (Blige sings a nice combined version of "Shadows of the Night" and "Harden My Heart"), rearranges things, reworks the harmonies, and you feel like you're hearing them anew.
And, of course, there's "Don't Stop Believin'," which never rose higher than No. 8 when released in 1981, and for awhile seemed to be lost in a pile of power ballads. But it became a sensation as a digital download — it's the most downloaded 20th-century song on iTunes, and has become a standard backdrop to dozens of movies (It's also now in "Madgascar 3").
And, famously, by "The Sopranos," a show that concluded its own epic run with a scene that featured no definitive dramatic conclusion, but a conspicuous use of "Don't Stop Believin.' "
Because it's not the destination.
It's the Journey. n
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at philly.com/keepitreel.
Review 2 1/2 stars
Rock of Ages
Directed by Adam Shankman. With Tom Cruise, Alex Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta. Distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 123 minutes
Parents' guide: PG-13
Playing at: area theaters