Anyway you want it, that's the way you need it.

If you remember the days of wine coolers and leg warmers with a nostalgia that borders on the Proustian, you might be amped for the "Rock of Ages" movie this summer. But be forewarned my fellow kitsch mavens: Adam Shankman's grody adaptation of the campy 2006 musical will not rock you like a hurricane.

Despite a jukebox full of hair-metal anthems and a few memorable performances, "Rock of Ages" is a bloated, big-budget spectacle that makes you long to drown your sorrows in a six-pack of Bartles and Jaymes (do they still make those?).

Certainly, the genius of the face-melting Broadway musical, one of the guiltiest pleasures ever, was how vigorously it spoofed itself, mocking everything from acid-wash to jazz hands in a spit-up funny '80s singalong that left no shtick unturned.

Unfortunately, Shankman's movie takes itself so deadly seriously that it drains all of the cheesy fun from the age of come-on-feel-the-noise. Despite the fact that playwright Chris D'Arienzo helped write the script, the painfully literal flick misses the mark in terms of snark. Even potshots at aerobics and Bennetton get lost in the movie's irony-free zone.

"Rock of Ages" has no sense of humor, which is odd, given the subject matter. Choppy editing, tepid pacing and generic vocals are bad enough to rival "Grease 2."


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Shankman, who also helmed the film version of "Hairspray," goes for ham-handed and sappy instead of lighthearted. It's as if the movie were trying to channel "Glee" instead of gnarly. That kind of saccharine overemoting is fatal when the plot is just a feeble excuse for covers of every '80s headbanger from Def Leppard, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger and REO Speedwagon.

Sherrie (a fresh-faced Julianne Hough) is just a small-town girl living in a lonely world, circa 1987. She takes the bus from Tulsa, Okla., to Tinseltown, where she lands a job at a Hollywood watering hole, a mecca of big hair and small miniskirts. There, she meets little boy lost Drew (the hottie Diego Boneta), a wannabe rock star toiling as a barback.

The original musical was so tongue-in-cheek that it left you feeling totally awesome for being in on the joke. Here, all of the dialogue is played so cringingly straight that it's a relief when someone breaks into song. Not for long, but still.

The starry-eyed lovers are so bland and vapid, they make Disney's "High School Musical" look gritty. It should be tragic when Sherrie is reduced to stripping and Drew ends up in a boy band, but since there's more character in their costumes than their performances, it hardly matters.

Indeed, Hough and Boneta's sugary singing seems better suited to pop than rock. They never capture the lust and sweat of the mosh pit. The power ballads are gag-worthy.

It only makes matters worse that Constantine Maroulis, who was indelible as Drew onstage, has a tiny cameo here. He's a reminder of what the movie is so palpably missing: the raw and unruly hunger that drives someone to bare their soul in the spotlight.

To be fair, the movie boasts Tom Cruise in perhaps his best performance since "Interview with the Vampire." The megastar slithers around as rock god Stacee Jaxx, bedding a string of groupies while sporting a bejeweled codpiece, a half-naked entourage and a pet monkey.

Cruise is so over the top, he's upside down. He oozes sex and booze, tapping into a magnetism you may have forgotten he had, especially in the "Dead or Alive" number. He single-handedly rescues the movie from its doldrums time and again.

Unfortunately, he's so perversely charismatic in the role that the director lets him steal the show. Jaxx becomes the main course when his Axl Rose homage would be tastier as a side dish.

For the record, there are juicy little turns by Alec Baldwin as the has-been club manager and Russell Brand (riffing on his "Get Me to the Greek" vibe) as his party-hardy sidekick. They sing their hearts out in a surprisingly moving "Can't Fight This Feeling." Mary J. Blige also vamps up a storm to "Shadows of the Night" and "Harden My Heart."

Alas, Bryan Cranston is simply wasted as the S&M-dabbling mayor whose religious zealot wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) tries to outlaw rock 'n' roll, and Paul Giamatti is woefully underused as Jaxx's oily manager. All three actors are capable of getting down and dirty, but even the sex scenes here seems curiously fresh-scrubbed. Let's not even get into the awkward choreography in Zeta-Jones' big "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" number.

The bottom line is that even if you know all the words to the Journey songbook, it's hard to not stop believin' in this uninspired mashup. Oh the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on.

Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Read her stories at www.mercurynews.com/karen-dsouza and follow her at Twitter.com/KarenDSouza4.

'ROCK OF AGES'

*

Rating: PG-13
Cast: Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta
Director: Adam Shankman
Running time: Two hours, 3 minutes