This movie opens up on that most cliched of scenes, where a young pretty blonde is on the bus from Oklahoma to Los Angeles with dreams of making it big. Since this movie is a musical, she immediately starts singing a song – Sister Christian by Night Ranger – and I started cringing automatically. It was a generic introduction with a broad tone and an overplayed song, so it was already clear that I was not going to care at all about her character and that her story arc was going to be predictable and dumb, and I felt bad for the actress tasked with performing it.
But I didn’t choose to watch the movie because of some random blonde woman, I chose it because Tom Cruise was playing an aging rock star in it. And not just any type of rock star – a hair metal guy with tattoos of pistols on his abs that point directly down a his crotch. I was going to keep suffering through this at least until Tom Cruise showed up.
And when Cruise showed up it actually got pretty great. He was funny in a very over the top role, he did a pretty credible version of a thoroughly hammered guy who was never without a cowboy hat, and he has enough innate charisma that you could believe him as a rock star. However, as I was watching him strut and preen like a hair metal titan I realized that the power of his performance was not in his ability to inhabit this role, it was in his inescapable Tom Cruise-ness. The reason why his character was interesting to watch was not because I thought it would go anywhere interesting (his arc was as predictable as anyone else’s) but because there was a palpable feeling that he was out of his comfort-zone and the tension of seeing an A-list star swinging for fences in a risky movie can be gripping to watch. If he’s going to fail you want to see it.
That’s the difference between a star and an actor: there’s schadenfreude when a star fails, but it’s just embarrassing when someone who is just starting out goes for it and fails. Since marquee names rarely leave their established wheelhouse every time Cruise sings a Def Leppard song my eyes were glued to the screen to see if he was going to make an ass out of himself; since unfamiliar faces don’t have wheelhouses yet I was trying to look away every time they were on the screen in fear that they would make asses out of themselves.
Because the only interesting parts of this movie were the meta-textual bits, huge chunks of this movie just sucked, but it had enough power to keep it from being a total wash-out.