The Broadway musical "Rock of Ages" is ready to rock on screen, with an all-star cast that includes Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand and Paul Giamatti alongside Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, who star as a small-town girl and city boy pursing their rock star dreams on the Sunset Strip. It's a fairy tale that sounds like it was ripped from the lyric sheet of an '80s song, such as the film's Journey anthem, "Don't Stop Believin'."
But can this newbie win a battle of the band-movies against a veteran champ like "This Is Spinal Tap," Rob Reiner's '80s cult-classic mockumentary starring comedy greats Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean? Let's put them on our showdown stage, and find out.
ROCK 'N' ROLL ROMANCE
"Rock of Ages": Envision a rock god wailing "I wanna know what love iiiiiis!" at the derriere of a naughty "Rolling Stone" journalist. Or a rock god wannabe serenading his small-town girl with the "Don't Stop Believin'" ode he wrote for her. Or a crusty club owner and his mulleted amour doing the don't-put-baby-in-a-corner lift because they can’t “fight this feelin’ anymoorrre."
"Spinal Tap": Blond rocker David St. Hubbins adores his lady Jeanine, even though she confuses "doubly" with Dolby. But his secretly smitten bandmate Nigel Tufel most likely wishes she would spontaneously combust like their previous drummer , so he could have his blond hunk of heavy-metal love all to himself.
Advantage: "Rock of Ages." Nigel's smoldering desire can't compete with all-ages, all-inclinations love/lust fest that is "Rock of Ages."
"Rock of Ages": Fist pumping, head banging, shout alongs -- the audience is ready to rock hard, all night long.
"Spinal Tap": Spinal Tap's audience shows up, most of the time.
Advantage: When it comes to truly bringin' it, the minions of "Rock of Ages" win.
"Rock of Ages": The cover band of movies, "Rock of Ages" pays tribute to the chart-toppers of '80s icons like Journey and Poison. It's a roller-coaster ride of euphoric nostalgia highs and medley overload.
"Spinal Tap": "Big Bottom," "Lick My Love Pump," "Sex Farm" and "Hell Hole" are all 100% original songs written by Guest, McKean, Shearer and Reiner.
Advantage: Hands down, "Spinal Tap." With tunes as good as any second-rate metal band's and masterfully silly lyrics, their songs have made an impression. After the film, the band actually toured and released albums.
"Rock of Ages": Crazy or not, Cruise can power-ballad "Wanted Dead or Alive" with badassary on par with Bon Jovi. Newcomer Boneta also does justice to hair-band hits like Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" and Foreigner's "Juke Box Hero." Giamatti and Baldwin, not so much -- though they certainly try. Hough can unquestionably sing, though sometimes she sounds like Betty Boop covering Pat Benatar.
"Spinal Tap": Christopher Guest and comrades croon with a Pink Floyd smoothness that's a little rough and growly around the edges.
Advantage: "Rock of Ages." The vocals of "Spinal Tap" don't quite cut it compared to the raw intensity or note-stretching range of the "Rock of Ages" cast’s musical chops.
SHOWMANSHIP"Rock of Ages": A mammoth stage raining fire as a throng of sweaty fans roars its approval is a sight to behold.
"Spinal Tap": ... But so is a giant devil skull, band members bursting (well most of them) out of alien pods and things suddenly exploding.
Advantage: "Spinal Tap." Fire seems so ... over, when you stare into the fathomless eyes of a horned demon.
"Rock of Ages": At Mary J. Blige's Venus club, it's pole-dancing a go-go, 24/7 -- stiletto-stomping, thigh-squeezing acrobatics that put your fitness class instructor to shame. But that's not all. "Rock of Ages" has Broadway-style dance numbers galore, including church lady Catherine Zeta-Jones doing her best Stacee Jaxx exorcism shimmy.
"Spinal Tap": Not much fancy footing here, unless you count dwarfs jigging around a stunted Stonehenge.
Advantage: "Rock of Ages." Its Broadway musical roots make it the dance champ.
"Rock of Ages": A boob-pawing Cruise slinks around bare-chested (and assed) while woman faint at his feet, or ravishing a leggy journalist in a naughty schoolgirl outfit on a pool table -- "Rock of Ages" skips the drugs, but definitely doesn't forget the sex part of the rock 'n' roll recipe.
"Spinal Tap": No grinding on groupies, but plenty of canoodling and repressed sexual tension.
Advantage: "Rock of Ages" knows how to sell sex, and sell it it does.
"Rock of Ages": “When my hamster died, your music really helped me through."
"Spinal Tap": "They have decided that the cover is sexist." "Well, so what? What's wrong with being sexy?"
Advantage: "Rock of Ages" has its quotable moments, but they are fewer and farther between than you’d hope; whereas lines of dialogue from "Spinal Tap" -- heck, just the song titles alone -- are worth repeating again and again and again. "Tap" for the win.
"Rock of Ages": At a low point, Boneta sports a boy-band poof, while Hough has a feathered "Charlie's Angels" flip. Baldwin slums it in straggly hippie locks, Brand boasts a magnificent spiked mullet, and Giamatti looks porny in a smarmy ponytail and 'stache.
"Spinal Tap": '80s mullets and wavy manes abound.
Advantage: By sheer amount hairspray required, "Rock of Ages" triumphs.
"Rock of Ages": Overall, the film is heavier on the cheese than gut-busting comedy.
"Spinal Tap": The razor-sharp wit is so deadpan, you don’t want to miss a word of conversation.
Advantage: "Spinal Tap" is in a far more elevated and intelligent comic stratosphere.
"Rock of Ages": Ass chaps, check. Bejeweled devil's-skull codpiece, check. Leather vests, check. Olivia-Newton John style bodysuit, check.
"Spinal Tap": We're looking at a lot of tight pants and hairy chests.
Advantage: You can't beat a bedeviled crotch for rocker fashion flair. "Rock of Ages" scores.
"Rock of Ages": It’s a movie that knows how to make some noise.
"Spinal Tap": Renowned as England’s loudest band, Spinal Tap owes its ear-shattering sound to amps that go to 11.
Advantage: Do Stacee Jaxx's amps go up to 11? We didn't think so. Nothing's noisier than "Spinal Tap."
"Rock of Ages": The headliners in "Rock of Ages" play a mean guitar riff.
"Spinal Tap": In "Spinal Tap," the guitar solos go beyond pick-strumming to incorporate violins and sneakers.
Advantage: Clearly "Spinal Tap" has the most cutting-edge technique.
THE ROCK LIFE
"Rock of Ages": Life is rough for rock's "loneliest cowboy" Stacee Jaxx. So many women to ravish, so much money to spend.
"Spinal Tap": Undersized bread slices, being frisked by airport security because you have a cucumber in your pants, getting lost backstage, an album signing with no fans ... Spinal Tap has its share of woes, too.
Advantage: "Spinal Tap" tells the unadulterated truth about the disappointments and challenges of a rock'n' roll band, especially one past its sell-by date.
"Rock of Ages": No mention of unexplained drummer disasters.
"Spinal Tap": Spinal Tap's ill-fated drummers have died in bizarre gardening accidents, choked on vomit (not their own) and exploded on stage.
Advantage: "Spinal Tap." Drum for the band if you dare.
AND THE WINNER IS ...
Was there ever any doubt? By a score of 8-7,"Spinal Tap" takes the rock-movie prize, though "Rock of Ages" made it surprisingly close. And though "Rock of Ages" is poised to take over the box office, we're guessing it won't be long before it fades into one-hit wonder history, crushed by the "Big Bottom" of the boys from Spinal Tap.