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'Rock Of Ages': Don't Take It Seriously, and You'll Love It

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"I'm really a stripper."

"I'm in a boy band."

"Okay--you win!"

That exchange between Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, toward the end of the movie version of the Broadway smash "Rock of Ages," elicited one of the many big laughs this film rolls out. (The two are comparing how low they've fallen.)

I went to a screening of "Rock of Ages" in a state of "no expectations." I hadn't seen the Broadway show. I don't especially care for 80's rock music, even the ones that are supposed to be classics. I hadn't paid much attention to who else was in the film, save for the much-touted casting of Tom Cruise as a drugged-out, promiscuous, aging (but still super-hot) rock-star. So imagine my surprise when "Rock of Ages" turned out to be a hugely enjoyable overload of intentional parody. (It is directed by Adam Shankman, who gave us John Travolta in "Hairspray." So that's the kind of surreal, unrelenting, wacky energy you can expect.)

For some, the energy may be too relentless and the parody not entirely clear, but the screening audience was by and large totally into it. To be brief, it's the tale of two young innocents who arrive in L.A., circa 1987, trying to break into show biz. They have trouble along the way. Now, be prepared, this is based on a Broadway show and people burst into song, willy-nilly. Director Shankman and screenwriters Justin Theroux and Chris D'Arienzo don't make any concessions to realism. And frankly, you haven't lived till you see Catherine Zeta-Jones--as the uptight wife of L.A.'s mayor--launch herself into Pat Benatar's anthem, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." Catherine was one of the many stars I was pleasantly surprised to see.

Others include Paul Giamatti as a sleazy music agent...Mary J. Blige as the owner of a strip club (her vocals are probably the movie's best--the audience applauded wildly the moment she began to sing)...and Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as the proprietors of a faltering nightclub on the Sunset Strip. The interplay and chemistry between these two is so funny, I won't be surprised if their characters are spun off into another film! The music of Joan Jett, Poison, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Journey and other 80's artists pepper the movie to an eventually overwhelming, giddy degree. (Okay, I admit it. I had to look that part up. I've never been to a Poison concert, believe it or not.)

And now we come to the big question. Can Tom Cruise really sing? Yes he can! Can Tom Cruise writhe and shake his booty like Iggy Pop? Yes he can! Does Tom Cruise look good bare-chested, long-haired, wearing tight leather pants? Yes, indeed he does! Is there anything Tom Cruise can't do?

  • I say, go see "Rock of Ages" with the knowledge that it is too much in every way, but hilariously good-humored. This is big-time, all-out, don't-take-it-seriously-at-all entertainment. But I know some people will be just dying to hate it. And 1980's music aficionados are already in a pro or con froth over the movie soundtrack. Those issues I can't address. I was hardly familiar with the original versions.
  • Now the best entertainment/show biz reporter in the world is Roger Friedman. He is having a birthday party on June 11 at Trattoria Spaghetto, 232 Bleeker Street. If you crash, bring green money to buy your own drinks. Why should Roger have to pay for drinks when he is already giving us his all and he knows everything there is to know? Happy Birthday, kid. You can find Roger online at Showbiz 411.
  • When I first started writing my gossip column for the New York Daily News in 1976, I found myself with the world's greatest boss - Mike O'Neill who just left this vale of tears recently. There will be a memorial service for him this coming tomorrow, June 8, at 10:30 a.m. at the Larchmont Yacht Club. I send love to Mike's widow, Mary Jane, and her four "lucky" children (Kathryn, Kevin, Michael and Maureen) I say they were "lucky" to have had Mike O'Neill for a father.

    One of my funniest moments with Mike was after the newspaper strike which happened early in my column-writing career. The Daily News insisted I go on WNBC's "Live at Five" to report what was going on while newspapers were silenced. I didn't want to be on TV, but of course, Mr. O'Neill was right and after the strike ended, this TV show was part of the "making" of my column. The only time Mike ever took me to task was after I had become a fixture on local TV and sometimes used the same story on the air as had, or would appear, in the printed column. He phoned one day and said: "Liz, stop doing that--repeating stories -- because the wife of 'Punch' Sulzberger of the New York Times doesn't like it. She calls me to complain when you repeat yourself."

    I said, "Ok, Boss - I won't do that anymore. But I didn't know we were taking orders from Mrs. Sulzberger and the Times."

    Mike O'Neill then kind of (for him) lost his temper and yelled: "For Pete's sake, Liz, that's what's so annoying to me. Every time I see her socially, she complains, and then I am annoyed at myself for letting her boss the New York Daily News around!"

    So long, Boss, you were a great man. A fair journalist and a wonderful human being.